What Does Mesothelioma Do to the Lungs?
Mesothelioma is a deadly type of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. Most people who understand even a little bit about the disease know how it originates. Unlike many other forms of cancer, however, mesothelioma affects the lining of various organs in the body. The most common place for mesothelioma to crop up is in the pleura, or the lining of the lungs.
Because mesothelioma symptoms often present as lung conditions, many people consider it to be a lung cancer. While that is not technically true, the disease does affect the lungs in a variety of different ways.
Common Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma
Prolonged asbestos exposure can lead to asbestos fibers becoming embedded in the lining of the lungs. Over time, the fibers begin to irritate the pleura which can lead to inflammation and, ultimately, fluid buildup in the lungs (medically referred to as, pleural effusion). This is the foundation for mesothelioma, which can take decades after initial exposure to start showing signs.
While you probably can’t recognize when there is fluid buildup in your lungs, you will still be able to identify the associated symptoms of that buildup. Pleural effusion puts pressure on the lungs and chest cavity in general, making it hard to breathe and producing frequent chest pains. It can also put pressure on the spinal cord and nearby nerves, which can cause extreme pain.
It’s important to point out that mesothelioma is not a lung cancer, because it develops in the mesothelium (the protective layer surrounding numerous organs) and not the lungs themselves. It can even occur in the lining of other organs and structures like the peritoneal cavity or the heart. But, that doesn’t mean the lungs won’t be affected. As the disease progresses, the symptoms get gradually worse with frequent painful coughing and chest pressure becoming more intense.
Are There Treatments for Mesothelioma?
As with any other cancer, the sooner mesothelioma is diagnosed, the better. Early stage treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and even surgery in certain instances. Unfortunately, mesothelioma can be very hard to detect. Because it occurs in the lining of organs and not in the organs themselves, it’s hard for doctors to pinpoint cancerous tissue or if there’s even cancer at all.
In fact, a chest X-ray often shows what looks like a slightly enlarged lung, which is not necessarily dire. With lung cancer (and many other forms of the disease), a tumor is usually very visible, and doctors know exactly what they are in for. The cancerous cells are often confined to that specific tumor. Mesothelioma, on the other hand, encases the organ, making it difficult to identify.
Mesothelioma typically isn’t diagnosed until the later stages because its symptoms can be confused for a number of other illnesses, and there are no internal structures (like tumors) that give it away. Even so, research into mesothelioma is constantly evolving, and treatment options are beginning to both expand survival rates and improve quality of life for numerous patients.
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, call or email us for a free consultation.