Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma (MPM) is a cancer that develops on the lining of the lungs called the pleura. It is the most common type of mesothelioma and is mainly caused by asbestos exposure. Of note, it often takes decades, between 20 and 50 years for mesothelioma to develop, after the initial exposure to asbestos. This lag time called ‘latency period’ explains why the disease usually affect older people.
Pleural Mesothelioma accounts for about 75 percent of all diagnosed cases. Like other types of Mesothelioma, this particular form of the disease gets its name because of where it is formed – in the pleura, a soft tissue that surrounds the lungs. In almost all cases, Pleural Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure.
The life expectancy of someone with pleural mesothelioma is less than 18 months, but some patients live much longer. Although the prognosis is generally poor, finding a specialized center can increase the treatment options thus maximizing survival rate.
What are Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms?
The first symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma typically include a persistent cough and shortness of breath. However, the patient may experience no symptoms at all.
Other symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma include persistent dry or raspy cough, coughing up blood (hemoptysis), shortness of breath (dyspnea), and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).
Moreover, the presence of asbestos fibers can cause excess fluid to build up between the two layers of the pleura, a condition called pleural effusion. While a little fluid in your pleural space is important, too much fluid can make breathing difficult as this extra fluid puts pressure on the lungs, causing chest pain that gets worse when you cough or take deep breaths.
Tumor complications are largely responsible for symptoms, which may include:
- Persistent dry or raspy cough
- Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Pain in the lower back or rib area
- Painful breathing
- Lumps under the skin on the chest
- Difficulty with swallowing (dysphagia)
- Night sweats or fever
- Unexplained weight loss
Diagnosing Pleural Mesothelioma
Two layers of tissue make up the pleura. These tissues protect and support the lungs and other important structures of the chest. They also produce lubricating fluid between to help the lungs move smoothly as we breathe. The outer layer, the parietal pleura, lines the entire inside of the chest cavity. The inner layer, or visceral pleura, covers the lungs.
Mesothelioma commonly affects both layers of the pleura. The cancer generally forms in one layer of the pleura and rapidly invades the other pleural layer, diaphragm, chest wall or lung. If the cancer reaches nearby glands called lymph nodes, it can metastasize, or spread, to other parts of the body.
Pleural Mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose, since symptoms usually do not arise until long after the first exposure to asbestos. As many diseases of the lungs and respiratory system have identical symptoms to Pleural Mesothelioma, in early stages doctors may mistake it for benign respiratory conditions like, flu or pneumonia.
Difficult To Confirm a Diagnosis
It is challenging for doctors to tell the difference between Pleural Mesothelioma and lung cancer. While doctors may suspect Mesothelioma based on a patient’s symptoms, history of asbestos exposure and irregular imaging scan results are not sufficient evidence to confirm a diagnosis.
Reliable Ways to Diagnose
Reliable ways to diagnose Pleural Mesothelioma include thoracoscopy and biopsy. A thoracoscopy allows doctors to view the patient’s chest through a small camera. A biopsy refers to a method doctors use to test tissue and fluid samples for cancerous cells.
An early diagnosis is crucial to define the best treatment options. After a review of medical and occupational history and a physical examination, patients typically undergo imaging tests that can reveal potentially cancerous tumors.There are three primary imaging tests used to diagnose Pleural Mesothelioma: Chest X Rays, CT Scans, and PET Scans.
Surgery is a valuable treatment option for patients with an asbestos-related disease. It comes in many forms, from procedures aimed at diagnosing a cancer and alleviating pain to complex surgeries that involve the very specific and specialized skills of a Mesothelioma surgeon.
Radiation therapy is one of the three main types of treatment options for mesothelioma. Using targeted radiation an oncologist can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
Chemotherapy is one of the mesothelioma treatment options and is effective in reducing tumors and killing cancer cells of pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma with powerful drugs accompanied by various side effects that may differ according to the chosen drugs administered.
This therapy is recognized as one of the few treatment options that can be effective for mesothelioma patients. Chemotherapy cannot cure mesothelioma, but depending on the severity of the cancer, it can alleviate symptoms, improve quality of life and prolong survival. For patients who are not candidates for surgery and are diagnosed with stage III or IV Mesothelioma, a major treatment decision is often whether or not to undergo chemotherapy.