Mesothelioma is a rare and unusually aggressive cancer that is most often caused by asbestos exposure

Today, we know that asbestos is anything but safe. It is a potent carcinogen, capable of causing illness up to and including cancer. But for the better part of a century, asbestos was at the fore and center of American industry. Marketed as a “miracle mineral” with near-unlimited utility, it was baked, caked, and woven into almost every product imaginable, from consumer cosmetics to cigarette filters—even substances as simple as cement.  

By then, the scientific community had reached a consensus: asbestos could kill, and there was no practicable way to reduce or otherwise manage its risks. 

But the damage had already been done. 

Hundreds of thousands of Americans, most of whom never had any real reason to doubt the promises made by employers and product manufacturers, started getting sick. Some developed respiratory conditions with no known cure; others found out, often years after leaving the workforce, that their recurring cough or bad back was not a peculiarity of old age, but an early symptom of emerging mesothelioma. 

For these men and women, there was not—and is not—any clear path to recovery. 

Determining your next steps in the face of life-altering diagnosis is never easy, but there are ways to assert your right to a healthy life while still ensuring that your family is prepared to weather a future that never seemed so uncertain.  

The Different Types of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a malignancy of the mesothelium, a thin layer of cells that protects many of the body’s major organs. Any cancer that emerges within the mesothelial wall is considered a type of mesothelioma, even if it later spreads to the bone or brain. 

However, the place where a mesothelioma tumor first forms—termed its primary site—has a profound effect on the disease’s expression and outcomes. Physicians typically refer to this primary site in making diagnoses and recommending treatment. 

The different types of mesothelioma include the following: 

  • Malignant pleural mesothelioma

Affects the pleural lining of the lungs and chest

  • Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma

Affects the abdominal cavity and its constituent organs

  • Malignant pericardial mesothelioma

Affects the fibrous sac encasing the heart

  • Malignant mesothelioma of tunica vaginalis (testicular mesothelioma)

Affects one or both testicles. 

Each form of mesothelioma—pleural, peritoneal, pericardial, and testicular—has three subtypes, which correspond with distinct cellular regions within the mesothelium. 

The subcategories of mesothelioma include:  

  • Epithelioid mesothelioma. Epithelioid mesothelioma is the most common type of malignant mesothelioma, accounting for between 60% and 80% of all reported mesothelioma cases. It is also the least aggressive and easiest to treat.
  • Sarcomatoid mesothelioma. Sarcomatoid mesothelioma is the rarest form of mesothelioma, constituting an estimated 10% of all diagnoses. It is more aggressive than epithelioid mesothelioma and does not always respond to treatment. 
  • Biphasic mesothelioma. Biphasic mesothelioma involves a combination of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. It is uncommon, but still represents anywhere between 10% and 15% of reported mesothelioma diagnoses. 

Although certain types and subtypes of mesothelioma are associated with a more positive prognosis, there is no known cure for any form of mesothelial cancer. Any mesothelioma diagnosis should always be cause for concern, necessitating a rapid response and high-quality care. 

However, even if mesothelioma is typically resistant to treatment, patients who receive early interventions are much more likely to live longer than those who overlook symptoms or have limited access to health care. 

Since mesothelioma can stay silent for decades, anyone with a history of asbestos exposure—whether confirmed, or suspected—should pay close attention to even the gradual emergence of inexplicable or otherwise unprecedented medical concerns. 

Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma, or malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), affects the pleural lining of the chest and lungs. It has several potential causes but is typically associated with a history of either occupational asbestos exposure or secondary asbestos exposure. This cancer is the most common type of mesothelioma, accounting for about 80% of mesothelioma diagnoses nationwide. 

The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma could include any of the following: 

  • Persistent or recurring cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lower back pain
  • Swollen face 
  • Swollen arms
  • Unexplained or unwanted weight loss 
  • Fatigue 
  • Fever 

Since the initial symptoms of mesothelioma can be easily confused with non-cancerous illnesses, many patients do not realize that their body is harboring a life-threatening disease until their cancer has progressed to a more advanced stage. 

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Peritoneal mesothelioma is characterized by the growth of malignant tumors in the peritoneum, which lines the abdominal cavity and encases organs like the liver and intestines. It is the second-most common type of mesothelioma cancers, comprising anywhere between 10% and 20% of all diagnoses.

Even though peritoneal is an aggressive and fast-moving cancer, it typically does not cause any noticeable symptoms until it spreads from the mesothelium to the organs of the abdominal cavity.

Symptoms could include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Accumulations of fluid in and around the abdomen 
  • Physical swelling or bulging in the abdomen 
  • A painful or swollen mass in the pelvic area 
  • Pain in the abdomen and surrounding areas 
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Recurring fevers and night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss 

Once symptoms emerge, preventing the spread and metastasis of peritoneal mesothelioma is challenging. 

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma is a cancer of the pericardium, the fibrous sac which surrounds the heart and its great vessels. The pericardium plays a critical role in keeping the heart stable—it also facilitates its movement, and prevents too much blood from accumulating inside its chambers. 

Fewer than 1% of mesothelioma cancers are pericardial in origin. In fact, this cancer is so rare that, as of 2013, fewer than 200 cases of pericardial mesothelioma have been documented in medical literature. 

However, case studies indicate that common symptoms could include:

  • Recurring or persistent
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Chest pain 
  • Pulse irregularities 
  • Fever
  • Night sweats 
  • Weight loss 
  • Feelings of physical weakness 

Pericardial mesothelioma cannot be cured, but treatment can be effective in prolonging a patient’s life, alleviating discomfort, and mitigating pain. 

Testicular Mesothelioma 

Testicular mesothelioma, technically termed malignant mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis, is a cancer of the testicle. It is exceedingly rare and accounts for less than 1% of confirmed mesothelioma diagnoses. 

Symptoms reported in case studies and reports include the following: 

  • A hard mass or protrusion on the testicles
  • Accumulations of fluid on one or both testicles (hydroceles) 
  • Pain in the testes or groin
  • Abdominal pain and swelling 

Testicular mesothelioma is sometimes mistaken for testicular cancer and more benign conditions. Diagnosis almost always requires the use of medical imaging technology. 

Coming to Terms with a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Even in old age, a mesothelioma diagnosis is life-altering. Long-term survival is rare, with outcomes dependent on a confluence of different factors. These include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • The type of mesothelioma. Every form of mesothelioma is life-threatening. However, the type of cell involved in a cancer—epithelial, sarcomatoid, and biphasic—has a significant influence on treatment options. In general, the epithelial subtype of mesothelial cancers is usually the easiest to treat. 
  • The location of the tumor. Pleural malignant mesothelioma is both the most common type of mesothelioma, and the type of mesothelioma with the highest rate of survival. Less-common types of mesothelioma can be more challenging, especially testicular and pericardial mesothelioma. This is due, in part, to their rarity. 
  • The stage of the disease. Early-stage mesothelioma can be more effectively managed than later-stage disease—especially later-stage disease that has metastasized, or spread beyond its primary site to other parts of the body. 

Other factors can influence longevity, including the lifestyle and overall health of a patient. 

Managing Mesothelioma

If you, or a loved one, have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, your physician’s recommended course of action could include treatment intended to either remove cancerous masses or manage the emergence of deleterious symptoms. 

However, most treatment plans include some combination of the following: 

  • Surgery 
  • Radiation therapy 
  • Chemotherapy 
  • Immunotherapy 
  • Experimental medication

Even in cases where doctors do not believe that long-term care will succeed in eliminating mesothelial cancer or pushing it into remission, patients can still take proactive measures to protect themselves against treatment-related side-effects and bolster their body’s natural defenses. 

Common measures include: 

Dietary Plans 

A healthy and balanced diet can counteract the negative effects of both mesothelioma and mesothelioma-related treatment. Doctors typically advise: 

  • Eating more meals throughout the day
  • Consuming greater quantities of protein-rich food 
  • Avoiding certain oils and trans fats 

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise connotes advantages including, but not limited to, the following: 

  • Increased energy 
  • Increased appetite
  • Improved mood and quality of life 

Exercise could also mitigate chemotherapy-related side-effects like peripheral neuropathy, a type of nerve death that can decrease physical sensation and cause feelings of weakness, numbness, and pain.  

Lifestyle Changes  

Smoking and asbestos exposure have an unusual and highly synergistic relationship, in that the presence of both risk factors significantly increases an individual’s lifetime risk of developing certain asbestos-related illnesses. 

While quitting smoking after a mesothelioma diagnosis cannot reverse cancer’s course, tobacco cessation can improve blood circulation and enhance the body’s ability to heal itself during chemotherapy. 

Furthermore, for patients whose mesothelioma does go into remission, quitting cigarettes can reduce the chances of cancer returning after treatment has concluded. 

Assessing Your Next Steps with a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Hope is essential in fighting mesothelioma. 

However, taking on cancer often demands resources beyond the reach of most working Americans. Even patients with high-limit, low-deductible insurance policies can easily find themselves struggling to keep pace with the mounting costs of healthcare. 

According to some estimates, routine procedures like chemotherapy can cost more than $12,000 per month. And cancer-related complications requiring hospitalization can average more than $25,0000 per incident.

Keeping faith—in your health, and in your chances of survival—could seem like a Herculean feat, especially when faced with a choice between an uncertain recovery and savings once earmarked for a spouse’s inheritance or a grandchild’s education. 

But, even against odds that often seem unfair, you could have options beyond unending sacrifice. 

If you, or a loved one, believe that a past asbestos exposure could have caused your mesothelioma, you could be entitled to significant compensation through: 

  • An insurance settlement
  • A personal injury lawsuit 
  • An asbestos trust fund 

Although no amount of money can lift the burden of a mesothelioma diagnosis, a settlement could make a world of difference—in a physical fight against cancer, the struggle to afford high-quality carer, and the need to ensure that your family will always have the resources they need to prosper, no matter the outcome.