Malignant mesothelioma cancer is rarely diagnosed before the age of 60, too often turning a well-planned retirement into a nightmare.
It targets senior citizens.
Mesothelioma is typically caused by a prolonged, occupational exposure to toxic asbestos, but it develops slowly, waiting for the golden years to turn a good life into chaos.
A patient and his family usually are stunned at the news of mesothelioma, discovering the latency period between first exposure and diagnosis can be anywhere from 20-50 years.
They must come to grips with a long-ago cause, and the realization that an unknowing inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers in your 20s could cause mesothelioma cancer in your 60s.
Mesothelioma often begins with microscopic asbestos fibers that become lodged in the thin membrane surrounding the lungs or abdomen.
They slowly cause inflammation, eventual scarring and cellular abnormalities of the membrane, leading to a number of serious respiratory health issues, including asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma decades later.
It is difficult to diagnose early and even tougher to control once it begins to metastasize.
Early symptoms — a persistent dry cough, a shortness of breath, pain in the chest area — often mirror those of more common and less serious problems complicating the diagnostic process.
Seniors often attribute the early symptoms to older age, dismissing their earlier asbestos exposure and missing the chance to diagnose it earlyca
Too often, it is misdiagnosed. A fluid buildup around the lungs can be alleviated and wrongly attributed to something else, which delays a series of imaging tests that properly could identify the cancer.
Unlike breast, prostate, lung or other more common cancers, mesothelioma remains a mystery to many in the medical profession, including many oncologists who rarely treat it or see it. They often struggle to identify it.
Although there is no definitive cure for mesothelioma, a curative approach can be taken if detected early enough. A multidisciplinary approach to therapy could include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
A typical mesothelioma patent will live only 9-12 months after diagnosis, but there are survivors today living two, three and five years beyond their prognosis after undergoing aggressive treatment.
Finding a mesothelioma specialty center to develop a personalized treatment plan and coordinate therapy is critical. This is different from lung cancer and finding a specialist who knows the intricacies of the disease and the most up-to-date methods of treating it is imperative.
Newer chemotherapy drugs are being developed. More effective radiation therapies are emerging. Surgeries have become more precise, offering hope to patients today.
There also are options that go beyond the standard-of-care treatment that also should be explored in extending lives.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to fight the mesothelioma growth. It works by revving up the immune system and identifying the tumor cells as foreign. Although this is no cure for the cancer, it has worked well in combination with other treatment options.
Gene therapy works by manipulating the genes of a patient. It can help repair the damage done by the carcinogens causing the cancer to spread. The treatment can replace faulty genes with new ones that can improve the outcome.
Photodynamic therapy is an experimental treatment that involves light energy and drugs that react specifically to that light to kill cancer cells. It has worked well previously with other types of cancer but still is in the early stages of testing with mesothelioma.
These are available for seniors in clinical trials, which are advancing the work being done to provide a curative approach to treatment.
Tim Povtak is a content writer for The Mesothelioma Center and pleuralmesothelioma.com, an informational source for mesothelioma patients and families.