What is Pleural Mesothelioma?
Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is a type of cancer that affects the pleura, which is the thin tissue lining around the chest wall and lungs.
Asbestos exposure is the most common cause of pleural mesothelioma. Whenever the asbestos fibers are inhaled, they go into the lungs. Typically, mesothelioma will develop 20 to 50 years after the first asbestos exposure, explaining why those older than 75 are most often diagnosed with the cancer.
Once diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, most patients have a life expectancy less than 18 months. Many factors may affect the exact life expectancy prediction.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for pleural mesothelioma. You can improve your prognosis, however, through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Even those who are not eligible for surgery can survive for years after diagnosis due to clinical trials and emerging treatments.
The term prognosis refers to the expected treatment and outcome for the disease. For most patients with pleural mesothelioma, prognosis is poor since the cancer spreads quickly and is resistant to many therapy types.
Below is a list of factors that can affect the prognosis:
- Stage: The stage is the most important factor when it comes to prognosis. Stages one and two have a better long-term survival than those with a later stage
- Cell Type: Mesothelioma tumors can come with different cell types, affecting the prognosis
- Patient Age: Younger patients have a better life expectancy than older ones
- Gender: Women have a better life expectancy than men
- Pleural Fluid: Low amounts of pleural fluid are associated with a better prognosis
- Patient Activity Level: Active patients tend to have a better prognosis
- Cancer Recurrence: Mesothelioma recurrence is often associated with a poor prognosis
Exposure to asbestos fibers is the most common cause for pleural mesothelioma. The fibers are needlelike, allowing them to lodge into the lungs whenever they are inhaled. Once lodged into the lungs, they migrate into the pleural lining, resulting in pleural mesothelioma.
These fibers cause chronic inflammation, genetic changes, and irritation, all of which encourage cells to become cancerous and affect overall health. Once the cells turn into cancerous ones, they grow quickly and threaten other organs within your body.
Below are the most common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma:
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lumps under chest skin
- Night sweats and fever
- Painful breathing
- Pain in lower back and ribs
- Persistent dry, raspy cough
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of face and arms
- Unexplained weight loss
Pleural mesothelioma treatment often includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, with chemotherapy being the most common. If diagnosed early, a doctor may suggest multimodal therapy, which is a combination of all the treatments mentioned above.
Diagnosis will begin as a doctor evaluates the initial symptoms. Often, breathing difficulty and chest pain will warrant an X-ray which often reveals fluid buildup in the lungs or tumors. From there, the patient will be referred to a specialist. The specialist will use imaging scans and biopsies to make a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis.