Mesothelioma

Pleural Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that occurs in the mesothelial cells that comprise the mesothelium, a membrane that lines many body organs and cavities. Mesothelioma comes in four main forms: pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma, and testicular mesothelioma. Each form is characterized by the area of the body where the disease began. The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma.

The pleura, or pleural membrane, is the lining that surrounds the lungs. It is a protective layer that is integral to overall respiratory health by providing support and protection in the chest cavity. The pleura is comprised of two main layers: the parietal layer and the visceral layer. The visceral layer is the inner layer and covers the lungs while the parietal layer is the outer layer and lines the entire chest cavity and diaphragm. Both layers are built of mesothelial cells.

Pleural mesothelioma occurs when asbestos fibers are inhaled and become lodged in one or both of these pleural membranes. Asbestos fibers are difficult for the body to expel. Overtime (often two or more decades), the asbestos fibers prompt some cells to mutate into cancerous cells. These cancerous cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells. In most cases, the cancer begins in either the parietal or visceral layer, but it may spread to the other layer quickly and without warning.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma eventually surface after the asbestos fibers become trapped in the spaces between the mesothelial cells. When the toxic fibers become trapped in the membrane, they cause new cancerous cells to divide abnormally. The membrane thickens, and fluid builds up between the layers. This process is known as pleural effusion. Lung capacity is also negatively affected.

The retained fluid puts a great deal of pressure on the lungs. This may make it hard to breathe easily. People suffering from pleural mesothelioma often find themselves short of breath - even when they are not engaged in any physical activity. In some cases, the fluid retention may become so severe that lumps are visible in the chest area. Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing, fever, fatigue, weight loss, and a persistent cough (which may produce blood).

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Pleural Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Mesothelioma diagnosis is often difficult because symptoms may resemble those of another disease such as the flu or pneumonia. Additionally, the trigger that often informs doctors that the patient may be suffering from mesothelioma is known exposure to asbestos over a prolonged period of time. In most cases, however, such exposure occurred decades prior - and the patient may not even be aware of the exposure. It can be difficult to connect the symptoms with the underlying cause of a patient's mesothelioma.

A diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma generally begins with a rundown of the relevant symptoms. If the symptoms match the disease profile, the next step is generally a series of imaging tests. These may include MRIs, CT scans, or chest x-rays. These tests are designed to produce images of the inside of the patient's body, allowing doctors to locate any areas of abnormality. Once an imaging test verifies that mesothelioma may be present where it is located, tissue and fluid is then biopsied to determine the presence of asbestos fibers. Biopsies can also help doctors determine the stage of the disease. Pleural mesothelioma is generally diagnosed in one of four stages, with four being the most advanced stage of development.

Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment

Since pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the cancer, the most knowledge and research about this type of mesothelioma is available to utilize when detailing a treatment plan for a patient. When compared with other forms of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma is the most treatable and offers the greatest variety of treatment options. Additionally, pleural mesothelioma is more likely to be diagnosed early, while the disease is still in stage one or two.

The main options for treatment of pleural mesothelioma include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. Many patients will follow a treatment regimen that includes more than one option. A standard course of treatment might include surgery to remove the majority of cancerous cells, followed by a course of chemotherapy or radiation to eradicate any remaining cells.

For patients who are diagnosed in stage three or four of the disease, treatment options are generally limited to palliative treatments, which are those designed not to cure the disease but rather to improve the patient's quality of life. These may include removing built-up fluid to ease pressure on the lungs.

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