Mesothelioma is a term that has received some form of notoriety in the medical community and the mainstream media, and it is often linked to people who work on asbestos-related jobs. It is also a disease that has been a recipient of numerous lawsuits around the country. But what is mesothelioma, anyway?
Mesothelioma is either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Benign mesothelioma is a non-cancerous tumor of the lining of the lung and chest cavity. Other names for it include fibrous mesothelioma and pleural fibroma. Non-malignant mesothelioma affects men more frequently than women.
Meanwhile, malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops from the protective lining that covers many of the body’s internal organs, the mesothelium. Approximately half of persons with this disease do not show symptoms. If the tumor goes to a large size and pushes on the lung, it can lead to shortness of breath. People who have this disease may also have symptoms like chest pain and chronic cough.
During a physical examination, the doctor may notice a clubbed appearance of the fingers. The tumor is usually found by accident when a chest x-ray is done for other reasons. Other tests that may show mesothelioma include CT scan of the chest and open lung biopsy. The outcome for benign mesothelioma is expected to be good with prompt treatment, whereas malignant mesothelioma has a poor prognosis.
Treatment for both cases is usually needed. Treatments may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or sometimes surgery. A complication may include fluid escaping into the membranes around the lungs called pleural effusion.
Other treatments now being studied for mesothelioma include Photodynamic therapy. For this treatment, a light-activated drug is injected into a vein. The drug spreads throughout the body and tends to collect in cancer cells. A few days later, a special red light on the end of a tube is placed into the chest cavity. The light causes a chemical change that activates the drug and causes the cancer cells to die. Since the drug is only active in the areas exposed to the special light, this approach may cause fewer side effects. Several clinical trials are now studying the use of photodynamic therapy for mesothelioma.
Another new treatment being tested on mesothelioma is gene therapy, which attempts to replace or repair defective genes in cancer cells. One approach to gene therapy uses special viruses that have been modified in the lab. The virus is injected into the pleural space and infects the mesothelioma cells. When this infection occurs, the virus injects the desired gene into the cells. Research on this kind of therapy is still in the early stages.
Research is also under way to clarify the role, if any, of SV40, a virus that has been linked to mesothelioma in some studies. There is always research going on in the area of mesothelioma. Scientists are looking for ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat the disease. Despite recent progress, much remains to be learned about the best way to treat these cancers. It is, therefore, very important to call your doctor right away if you notice any symptoms of mesothelioma.