Types and Treatment Options for Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a tumor that develops in an organ’s outer lining covering its surface. It majorly affects the lungs but can also affect the lining of the abdomen and heart. Commonly, men are more prone to mesothelioma than women. Chances of getting diagnosed with mesothelioma increase with age; on average, people aged 65 or above are at a higher risk. It’s possible but usually rare in people below the age of 45.

Causes of Mesothelioma

The major cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure, a naturally occurring mineral made of thin microscopic fibers resistant to heat, corrosion, and electricity. Asbestos enters the body through the air contaminated with its particles. Therefore, breathing for prolonged periods in the contaminated air is the most significant route for asbestos to enter your system. Even one-time substantial exposure to asbestos is enough for damage to the body tissues.

Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Symptoms of mesothelioma are gradual and grow over time. It may take several years or even a few decades for the signs to appear. They may differ according to tumor location and illness stage; however, the most common symptoms of mesothelioma include:

  1. Shortness of breath
  2. Chest pain
  3. Tiredness or extreme fatigue
  4. Excessive sweat
  5. High fever
  6. Painful cough
  7. Swelling of fingertips
  8. Appetite loss
  9. Weight loss
  10. Weak muscles

Types of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is categorized by cell type and tumor location. Medical professionals consider both to determine the treatment plan because cell responses to treatments differ.

Types of Mesothelioma by Cells

1. Epithelioid Mesothelioma

It is the most common cell type among the major categories. It is reported that patients with this cell type have a greater survival rate than other types. An organization dedicated to serving veterans with mesothelioma, mesotheliomaveterans.org reports that up to 70% of cases are epithelioid. People working in manufacturing, construction, and mining industries are at a greater risk of occupational asbestos exposure.

2. Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma

Sarcomatoid mesothelioma is the rarest among the three cell types and also the hardest to treat. Only about 10 to 20 percent of cases are diagnosed with this rare type. It’s capable to spread rather quickly to other body organs.

3. Biphasic Mesothelioma

Both epithelial and sarcomatoid cells are present in this type of mesothelioma. Prognosis depends on the cell that is dominant between the two. Patients with a large number of epithelial cells are reported to respond favorably to treatment as compared to sarcomatoid cells. It is also referred to as mixed mesothelioma.

Types of Mesothelioma by Location

1. Pleural Mesothelioma (Lungs)

It is formed in the pleura, the lining of the lungs. In most mesothelioma cases, up to 80 to 90 percent are diagnosed with pleural. The average survivor rate of patients is 18 months after diagnosis.

2. Peritoneal Mesothelioma (Abdomen)

It is the most common type after pleural and about 15 to 20 percent of cases are reported with this type. Peritoneum; the lining of the abdominal cavity is affected in peritoneal mesothelioma. The life expectancy with peritoneal mesothelioma is most favorable in comparison to other forms.

3. Pericardial Mesothelioma (Heart)

Affecting the pericardium, the lining of the heart, pericardial mesothelioma has a rare occurrence rate. Yearly, 50 diagnoses are reported in the US. It accounts for up to one percent of all cases. The average survival rate of pericardial mesothelioma is six months.

4. Testicular Mesothelioma

Although testicular mesothelioma has the lowest diagnosis rate, less than 1 percent,  it has a high recurrence cgances. About 93% of patients experience recurrence of the tumor within five years of diagnosis.

Mesothelioma Treatment Options

1. Chemotherapy

It is the most common of treatments for mesothelioma. Chemotherapy prevents tumor cells from multiplying by killing them. It limits the growth of new tumor cells. To treat mesothelioma, chemotherapy can either be used alone or in combination with surgery. Chemotherapy administered through pill or injection is called systemic chemotherapy. It destroys other fast-growing cells; hair follicles, blood cells, and tumor cells. Conversely, intracavitary chemotherapy is administered directly into the body cavity during the surgical process. Its side effects are less compared to systemic chemotherapy.

2. Radiation

Therapy that uses energy to kill tumor cells is called radiation. It promotes the prevention of tumor growth. It may extend the survival rate in mesothelioma patients by reducing the symptoms. A common form of radiation is the photon beam radiation which uses the same technique as the X-ray; however, at a greater intensity. The radiations help shrink tumors but may also destroy healthy tissues. Particle radiation, on the other hand, uses electrons or protons to release energy to tumor cells and has fewer side effects.

3. Surgery

Surgery can be performed for mesothelioma diagnoses, removal of malignant cells, or to relieve symptoms. Surgery may be combined with chemotherapy and/or radiation for treatment. Doctors recommend diagnostic surgery to remove fluid or tissue samples to analyze and confirm mesothelioma diagnoses. Eligible patients may receive therapeutic surgery where much of the tumor is removed.

4. Multimodal Therapy

Multimodal therapy is a combination of two or more tumor treatments. It is considered effective in extending the survival rate in patients. It usually includes chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation. Multimodal therapy has been successful as compared to the use of singular treatments. The treatment is customized as per individual patient needs.

Evolving Treatment Options

There is ongoing research on mesothelioma treatment, and progress has been made. However, such treatments are only available through clinical trials as the research continues. These may be adopted as standard treatment options for mesothelioma if proven safe and effective.

  • Immunotherapy destroys tumor cells by stimulating the immune system of the patient. New cells are introduced into the system to kill tumor cells in gene therapy.
  • Another emerging treatment type is photodynamic therapy (PDT) which uses a light-activated drug to damage tumor cells. PDT has been able to prevent tumor growth as per clinical trials.

Final Thoughts

Mesothelioma is a life-threatening tumor that develops on the lining of different body organs. It is caused by asbestos exposure. Early signs of mesothelioma are mild; therefore, detection is difficult. Major symptoms include cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pain. It can roughly take 10 to 50 years for the symptoms to first occur.

Types of mesothelioma are categorized by location and cell type; however, the most common is pleural mesothelioma in the lungs. Mesothelioma symptoms can be treated through chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, or multimodal therapies. Although mesothelioma is incurable, life expectancy can be increased through early diagnoses and proper treatment.