If mesothelioma is caught in its early stages, treatment options and outcomes do improve. This means that symptoms, however minor they may seem, should never be ignored. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the chest) can include cough, fever, shortness of breath, excessive sweating, fatigue, pain in the side of the chest or lower back, weight loss (without trying), trouble swallowing, hoarseness, and swelling of the arms and face.
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the lining of the abdomen) can include abdominal (belly) pain, weight loss (without trying), nausea and vomiting, constipation, and swelling or fluid in the abdomen.
Evaluating Your Risk
Exposure to asbestos remains the number one risk factor for mesothelioma, so any exposure to asbestos in the past should be discussed with your doctor. Exposure to asbestos often occurs in a job where someone works with or around the material on a regular basis. High-risk occupations for asbestos exposure include construction, shipbuilding and military, demolition, pipe-fitting, auto repair, firefighting, railroad and refinery work, asbestos mining and milling, cleaning and custodial service, welding, and aerospace.
Exposure can occur second hand as well. Second hand exposure happens when someone is in an environment where asbestos is airborne, such as near a mine or construction site. It can also occur when a worker brings asbestos into the home on his body, clothes, tools, and other objects.
Doctors and researchers are hard at work developing detection tests that have the potential to identify mesothelioma early. These tests are in varying stages of clinical trials, and a few options are being used today. For example, blood tests that detect levels of three substances in the blood (fibulib-3, osteopontin, and soluble mesothelin-related peptides (SMRPs)) are helping doctors determine the possibility of mesothelioma in people who do not have any symptoms or few symptoms.
Levels of the three substances are often high in people with the disease. So far, these blood tests cannot confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma. However, high levels of these substances make mesothelioma more likely.
“For people with known exposure to asbestos,” explains the American Cancer Society (ACS), “some doctors recommend imaging tests such as chest x-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans to look for changes in the lungs that might be signs of mesothelioma or lung cancer.” Fluid and tissue sample tests, and biopsies are other methods.
The 5-year survival rate for mesothelioma is between 5% and 10%. However, people diagnosed at a younger age tend to survive longer, and those with stage I mesothelioma have a median survival of 21 months. Median survival means that half the patients in this group live longer than 21 months and half the patients don’t. The median survival for stage II patients is 19 months. Median survival for stage III and IV patients is 16 and 12 months, respectively.
“As a general rule,” says the ACS, “survival times are likely to be longer for people with mesotheliomas that can be operated on than for those with cancers that have spread too far to be removed.” Other prognostic factors, such as good performance status (being able to carry out normal tasks of daily life), female gender, not having chest pain, no significant weight loss, normal levels of a substance in the blood called LDH, epithelioid subtype, and normal red blood cell counts, white blood cell counts, and blood platelet counts can also affect survival.
In addition, patients who can have the mesothelioma surgically removed tend to do better than people who cannot have surgery.
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