Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which tumors form in the lining of the chest (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma). Rarely, it can affect the outside covering of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma).
Pleural mesothelioma is cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and chest wall. It is rare, with about 3000 new cases diagnosed in the United States per year.
Exposure to asbestos is strongly linked to mesothelioma and is felt to be the primary cause in most cases of the cancer. This exposure can usually be linked to a patient’s work-place or home. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once widely used as a component of insulation due to its remarkable fire and heat resistance. It was used in factories, shipyards, building construction, automobile brakes and clutches until it became clear that exposure to microscopic asbestos fibers could cause cancer.
Most asbestos use was discontinued in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s although some homes and buildings constructed before this time do still contain asbestos. Almost all cases of pleural mesothelioma can be linked to asbestos exposure. Family members of those who worked with asbestos are at risk due to secondhand exposure to asbestos fibers carried home on clothing. It can take decades between the initial exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma.
The diagnosis of mesothelioma begins with a thorough history and physical exam. During the physical exam, your doctor will look for signs of fluid accumulation within the chest which is common with pleural mesothelioma. If the history or physical suggests mesothelioma, imaging, blood tests as well as other procedures may be ordered.
Although there is not yet a known cure for mesothelioma, there are several treatment options available that are aimed at extending and improving a patient’s quality of life. These options vary dependent on the stage of the cancer (how advanced it is), a patient’s age and overall medical condition as well as the tumor’s histology (how aggressive the tumor appears under the microscope). Mesothelioma can be difficult to treat given the fact that it is often discovered after it has spread throughout the body. However, for patients with disease that is still localized within the chest, a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation may be of benefit.
Because mesothelioma is a rare disease, it is important that you choose a team of physicians with experience treating mesothelioma. The team at the Chest Cancer Research and Treatment Center has extensive experience in treating mesothelioma. This team is composed of medical oncologists (doctors specialized in diagnosing and treating cancers), radiation oncologists (doctor specialized in giving radiation treatments to kill cancer cells) and thoracic surgeons (doctors who specializes in operating on organs inside the chest), all with the most up to date techniques in treating this disease.
Surgery is most commonly performed when disease is in its earlier stages (localized to the chest). The purpose of surgery is to remove all cancer from the chest. Types of surgery include.
Radiation or chemotherapy may be used as follow-up to surgery to kill any invisible cancer cells. This form of treatment is known as adjuvant therapy (given after surgery). Your chest surgery should be performed by a specialized thoracic (chest surgeon) with expertise treating pleural mesothelioma. All thoracic surgeons in the Department of Thoracic Surgery at Baylor University Medical Center have extensive experience in surgery for mesothelioma. Your thoracic surgeon will determine whether you are a candidate for surgery and whether tumor is removable. Some tumors cannot be removed due to their location or if the cancer has spread. If you are not a candidate for surgery, chemotherapy may be recommended or you may be offered a clinical trail through the Chest Cancer Research and Treatment Center.