Mesothelioma is a form of cancer typically caused by asbestos exposure. The asbestos particles become trapped in the mesothelium, which is the lining of such important internal organs as the lungs, stomach, and heart. Over time, the asbestos can cause the cells to become cancerous leading to mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma can be a difficult type of cancer to detect. Mesothelioma typically does not appear until 15-50 years after asbestos exposure. 30-40 years is the most common period for the cancer to become evident. Often by the time patients develop symptoms that cause them to see a doctor the mesothelioma has destroyed too much body tissue to stop it from taking the patient’s life.
The symptoms of the disease are similar to many common illnesses. Chest pain, shortness of breath and weight loss are all symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs. If a person has worked in an environment where there may have been asbestos, they should inform their physician. The sooner a patient is diagnosed, the better chance they have at prolonging their life.
When a patient is suspected of having mesothelioma, a doctor will perform a physical examination of the patient, have chest X-rays taken, and often conduct lung function tests. X-rays can show pleural thickening that the cancer causes. Further diagnostic tests such as a CT scan or an MRI are usually performed. Fluid may also be withdrawn from the patient for lab tests to determine the presence of mesothelioma. A biopsy may also be needed.