How Does Mesothelioma Kill You?

July 2, 2020  |  Mesothelioma

Prolonged exposure to asbestos rarely occurs anymore, since the material has been removed from most applications in which it was used — and very few products are made with it today.

But the diagnoses of today’s mesothelioma patients are not due to current exposure; the disease takes decades to develop in the body and there is no way to treat asbestos exposure.

According to estimates from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 11 million people were exposed to asbestos from 1940 to 1978. Up to 10% of people who had extensive exposure to asbestos will develop pleural mesothelioma (the most common type of the disease).

Today, most people who get any type of mesothelioma are diagnosed during Stage 3 or 4 (the late or end stages). Of pleural mesothelioma patients starting treatment, 40% will survive at least one year after starting treatment.

This is why early detection is so important, and why the symptoms need to be recognized as soon as possible.

Early-stage symptoms

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they become trapped in the lining of the lungs (pleura), causing irritation and inflammation — which leads to thickening in the pleura layers, in addition to fluid buildup around the lungs. All the fluid and thickening around the lungs prevent them from fully expanding, causing chest discomfort and pain when breathing.

Typical symptoms in Stages 1 and 2 of pleural mesothelioma include:

  • Body aches
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Persistent coughing
  • Pleural effusions (fluid buildup)
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Weight loss

Unfortunately, you can see that these symptoms are not specific to mesothelioma — leading to difficulties diagnosing the disease in its early stages. In many cases, it is not diagnosed until Stages 3 and 4.

Later-stage symptoms

While symptoms during the late stages of pleural mesothelioma do include those from earlier stages, they can become more severe. But more symptoms specific to pleural mesothelioma become apparent, so most patients are diagnosed in Stages 3 and 4. Symptoms in these later stages include:

  • Anemia
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and/or night sweats
  • Loss of appetite/weight loss
  • Painful breathing
  • Persistent coughing
  • Persistent pain in the chest or rib region
  • Pleural effusions
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)

So while mesothelioma is a very serious diagnosis — the kind that compels people to use search phrases like “How does mesothelioma kill you?” — there are steps to take in the fight against it.

Early detection is the most important factor, as patients diagnosed during Stage 1 have the best outlook. By starting a course of treatment — usually one or a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy — as early as possible, patients can begin their fight against this disease.

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