Mesothelioma is a very aggressive cancerous tumour that affects the lining that covers the outer surface of the body’s organs. The most common form is pleural mesothelioma which affects the pleura of the lung (the thin membrane surrounding the lungs). The second most common form is peritoneal mesothelioma which affects the lining of the abdominal cavity. Mesothelioma can also affect the lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) and the testes (testicular mesothelioma).
Mesothelioma is caused by the inhalation of airborne asbestos fibres, which will have occurred during an individual’s working or domestic life. Many will be surprised to know that there is a stronger link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma than smoking and lung cancer.
One of the defining features about this cancer is that there is a very long latency period between exposure to asbestos and experiencing symptoms of the disease. Commonly the delay can be between 10 and 50 years.
Unfortunately, due to the number of years the illness lies dormant for, by the time mesothelioma is diagnosed it may have progressed to a severe level and, therefore, the prognosis is often negative.
Types of mesothelioma
There are four main types of mesothelioma:
- This affects the lining of the lungs and is the most common form of mesothelioma. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include breathlessness, chest pain, loss of appetite and weight loss, back and shoulder pain and extreme fatigue.
- This is a less common form of mesothelioma which affects the abdomen. Around 3 to 5% of mesothelioma diagnoses are peritoneal. Symptoms include stomach pain, bloating, swelling, changes in bowel movements and extreme fatigue.
- This affects tissue lining the heart and is a very rare form of mesothelioma. Symptoms include chest pain, irregular heartbeat, breathing difficulties and a persistent cough.
- This affects the lining of the testicles and like pericardial mesothelioma, is a very rare form of the disease. Symptoms include painless lumps and scrotal swelling.
The symptoms of mesothelioma can take between 10 and 50 years to develop and in many cases, by the time a diagnosis is made the disease is already at an advanced stage.
The symptoms of all forms of mesothelioma can be caused by other conditions so if you are suffering with any of the symptoms it is important not to panic as there may be something else causing them. It is still vital for you to seek medical attention as soon as possible, to allow for an asbestos-related condition to be ruled out. Make sure you advise your doctor that you have been exposed to asbestos in the past, to make them aware that you may be suffering with an asbestos-related disease.
Diagnosis of mesothelioma
All forms of mesothelioma are difficult to diagnose as the symptoms could be caused by a number of other conditions. The first step in diagnosis is imaging tests. An x-ray or CT scan would normally be carried out, along with blood tests which will help to rule out other conditions.
Once imaging has shown there is a potential tumour, if the patient is well enough, a biopsy is taken. This involves a small sample of the tumour being taken so that it can be tested.
Currently, a biopsy is the most reliable method of diagnosing mesothelioma. In cases where the patient is unable to undergo a biopsy, imaging and blood tests can be used to obtain a likely diagnosis and appropriate treatment is then provided on a clinical basis.
Treatment of mesothelioma
Sadly, there is no known cure for mesothelioma and, due to the often late diagnosis, prognosis for patients is generally poor. However, advances in mesothelioma research have uncovered more effective treatments which can allow patients to experience improved quality of life, whilst also lengthening their lives.
Treatment options will depend on the location and progression of the disease.
- Chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are common treatments for mesothelioma. They aim to slow the growth of tumours and increase quality of life. Chemotherapy, however, is well-known to cause negative side effects which some patients feel outweigh the benefits.
- If caught early, and the patient is otherwise in good health, they may be offered surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible. This can help to alleviate symptoms.
- In pleural mesothelioma, a radical surgery where the pleura and lung are removed may be an option. For this to be an option the disease needs to have been diagnosed early and the patient needs to have a strong heart and reasonable lung function.
- A relatively new treatment for mesothelioma is immunotherapy, which stimulates the patient’s immune system to target and kill the mesothelioma cells. Immunotherapy is not currently available on the NHS. However, we have been successful in recovering mesothelioma compensation to cover private costs of this treatment. This forms part of the civil compensation claim.
Prognosis for mesothelioma
The prognosis for mesothelioma is often bleak as there is no known cure. Following diagnosis the average life expectancy is between approximately 12 and 18 months. The advances in mesothelioma treatments are helping patients to live longer and there are mesothelioma sufferers who have lived well beyond what was expected, with some living for more than 10 years following diagnosis.
Prognosis depends on the stage of the disease at diagnosis as well as the location and cell type of the mesothelioma.
Claiming for mesothelioma
To make a civil mesothelioma compensation claim you need to be able to say which companies or employers exposed you to asbestos and what work you were doing that caused the exposure. Alternatively, if you were exposed outside of work, you will need information confirming how you suffered your exposure to airborne asbestos dust. If you have this information or wish to look into things further, our specialist asbestos disease solicitors can help you pursue a claim, with a view to holding a party to account for what has happened to you. If you are unable to pinpoint where you have been exposed, we can help you to consider this further.
We’re here to help and ready to take your call. Freephone 0800 038 6767 or visit our contact us page.