Epithelial Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a deadly and rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a highly dangerous and cancer causing substance that was once used regularly within many industries and used inside homes and buildings. The dust from asbestos is inhaled and causes irreversible damage to the lungs. The most common industries in which asbestos was used include construction, insulation, paper mills, ship building, railroads, auto parts and ceramics (2).

There are three main types of mesothelioma, which are epithelial, sarcomatous (also called fibrous), and biphasic/mixed (2) (6). Epithelial is the most common type of this disease and is found in 50-70% of cases. Epithelial mesothelioma is a cancer of the epithelial tissue, which are the membranes that line your internal organs. Epithelial mesothelioma has a better prognosis than the other types (3), although it is still a very deadly form of cancer.

The median length of life of a patient with mesothelioma is only eleven months (1). This is due to the fact that often the disease is not diagnosed and treated until it is in much later stages because the early symptoms are often very vague and include shortness of breath and chest pain (1). It is very important to consult your doctor right away with any symptoms regardless of how mild, especially if you know you have been exposed to asbestos. If caught early, there is a much better prognosis.

Mesothelioma survival rates are improving with newer and more aggressive treatments. They are also much better if the disease is caught in the earliest stages in which aggressive treatment is the most effective. There is a 50% survival rate after five years if the cancer is caught in stage 1 and aggressive treatment can be started promptly (4). Aggressive treatment is very effective in less advanced stages and used to try to cure the cancer and stop the spread to other parts of the body (1).

The type of mesothelioma is determined with medical tests such as cytology and needles biopsies. However, often epithelial mesothelioma may be difficult to diagnose accurately as it can also look very much like anaplastic lung cancer or other metastatic cancers (5). Sometimes further diagnostic tools will need to be used for an accurate diagnosis.

Epithelial mesothelioma, as well as the other types, can develop in different areas of the body. It can be found in the pleural tissues of the lungs, the abdomen or the pericardium. The most common place for it to form is in the pleural tissues of the lungs, which account for 60% of cases (3), with peritoneal (abdominal) involvement also being very common. Pericardial mesothelioma occurs when the cancer develops on the membrane, or epithelial tissue, surrounding the heart and is actually quite rare (1).

Common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include shortness of breath, chest discomfort, chest pain and other pneumonia-like symptoms. Many times there may be no symptoms at all until in more advanced stages of cancer (3). Peritoneal, or abdominal, mesothelioma can also cause shortness of breath as well as weight loss, bowel problems, anemia, foot swelling and swelling of the abdomen.

Treatment for epithelial mesothelioma is much the same as the other types of mesothelioma and can include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Treatment and surgery performed often depend more on the stage of cancer and the area it is located in the body than the type of mesothelioma. Chemotherapy has not been proven to be very effective in epithelial cancer (2) and is not used alone, although it may still be used along with other forms of treatment.

Chemotherapy and radiation are used to kill cancer cells and therefore reduce the size of the tumor. However, these treatments will also kill and damage healthy cells as well, which results in the many symptoms associated with these types of treatments. You’ll need to understand all the risks and side effects before going under treatment and be prepared with what to expect.

There are several surgery options available to those with epithelial mesothelioma, depending on the stage of cancer, area of the body affected, and your particular circumstances overall. Your doctor will go over the options available to you as well as all benefits and risks of each. You should also be sure to ask your doctor plenty of questions and make sure you have a thorough understanding of your situation to be able to make informed decisions regarding your care.

Surgery for epithelial mesothelioma can be used for many different medical reasons. Treatment, including surgery, may be used to try to cure or to increase longevity and the chances of survival. Sometimes surgery is used to reduce a patient’s symptoms and make them more comfortable. This is known as palliative surgery (1) and is often an option for patients whose cancer is more advanced.

Receiving a diagnosis of epithelial mesothelioma is a scary and shocking experience. Many patients receiving such a diagnosis go through a range of intense emotions that closely resemble the grieving process, including denial and anger. This is a normal human response, although do not let this get in the way of taking charge of your situation and receiving prompt treatment. Your actions and involvement can make a difference in quality of life and eventual outcome.

‘Epithelial Mesothelioma’ Resources:

Mesothelioma Cancer Treatment Center. “Epithelial mesothelioma Cancer.” Epithelial mesothelioma: Early Detection and Treatment. Date undocumented.

Accessed: 24 July 2007. WebMD. “Mesothelioma.” Emedicine from WebMD. 9 February 2007.

Accessed: 24 July 2007. Asbestos News. “Epithelial Malignant Mesothelioma.” Asbestos News: Devoted Information About mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure. 2006.

Accessed: 24 July 2007. Einstein Law, Inc. “Pleural and Peritoneal Mesothelioma Treatment-Surgery.” mesothelioma FYI. 2004.

Accessed:24 July 2007. National Cancer Institute. “Cellular Classification.” Mesothelioma: Treatment-Health Professional Information (NCI PDQ). PeaceHealth: Dedicated to Exceptional Medicine and Compassionate Care. 1993-2000.

Accessed:24 July 2007. Cancer Research UK. “Types of Mesothelioma.” About mesothelioma. 2002.

Accessed: 24 July 2007.

More information can be found at http://www.asbestos.net/

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