Although the United States has curtailed the use of asbestos-containing products in residential and commercial construction, the effects of asbestos exposure are still a major concern. Additionally, there are several places around the world where asbestos exposure is still quite high. Asbestos occurs naturally in the ground in countries like Turkey. Additionally, there are places in the U.S. where high levels of asbestos have been considered a public health emergency. In fact, Heard, Robins, Cloud, LLP, a prominent asbestos attorney group, estimates that ?at least 125 million people around the world are still exposed to asbestos every year.?
Asbestos exposure causes a variety of illnesses, and mesothelioma is one of the more common of the asbestos-related diseases. By current reckoning, there are more than 2,500 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in the U.S. each year. However, that number does not include individuals who are asymptomatic and do not realize that they have the disease.
People who have worked in industries where asbestos is prevalent?such as manufacturing, automotive, and construction?should have regular screenings for mesothelioma…
The Dangers of Mesothelioma
One of the biggest dangers of mesothelioma is that people can be asymptomatic for years, and even decades. Unfortunately, by the time they do have symptoms, the disease has progressed so much that the chances of survival are significantly reduced.
Mesothelioma primarily attacks the membrane surrounding several internal organs, such as the lungs and the intestines. Because this membrane, or mesothelium, is so widespread throughout the body, that means that the mesothelioma tumors can grow undetected almost anywhere. However, it seems to occur most often in the lungs and abdominal area along the digestive tract?areas where asbestos is most likely to enter the body.
People who have worked in industries where asbestos is prevalent?such as manufacturing, automotive, and construction?should have regular screenings for mesothelioma.
There are several different methods of screening for mesothelioma.
If you are asymptomatic, but have reason to believe that you are at risk, your doctor might order a CAT scan or MRI of your abdomen to look for signs of tumors. If no tumors are present, your doctor might determine that you need to have screening at regular intervals to see if any tumors grow.
If you have symptoms, such as:
- Pain under the rib cage;
- Painful coughing and shortness of breath;
- Abdominal pain and swelling;
- Lumps in the chest or abdomen; and/or,
- Unexplained weight loss,
Your doctor could order a CAT scan, MRI, or X-ray of your chest or abdomen. He could also perform a biopsy on the lumps to determine if they are malignant. Depending on the placement of the tumors, a biopsy could involve collecting tissue and fluid with a needle, or performing a surgical procedure to obtain the tissue.
If your doctor diagnoses you with mesothelioma, you would then begin treatment.
Treatment for Mesothelioma
Doctors often use a combination of surgery and chemotherapy to treat mesothelioma.
The surgery is designed to either remove the tumors or reduce the amount of fluid build-up between the mesothelium and the organs inside. Depending on how far the disease has progressed, surgeons might also remove tissue surrounding the tumor and even whole organs. When surgeons are unable to remove all of the tumor or associated organs, they remove as much of the tumor as they can?a procedure known as debulking.
Chemotherapy is designed to kill the tumor cells, and prevent new cells from forming. If the tumors are widespread, your doctor might opt for systemic chemotherapy, which travels throughout your body. If the tumors are concentrated in one area, your doctor might opt for direct chemotherapy.
The effectiveness of surgery and chemotherapy ultimately depends on the stage of the disease. Patients who are in Stage I tend to have a greater chance of success than patients who are in Stage III or Stage IV.
Last editorial review: December 18, 2015.
Featured image: Laboratory research of cancer diseases. Courtesy:? ? 2015 Fotolia. Used with permission.
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