Whether it is you or a loved one who has been given a mesothelioma diagnosis, the same common set of questions often pop into our minds. These are mesothelioma issues we’ve covered often on this blog, but they are so important, so critical, that they are worth revisiting from time to time. Covering the basics of mesothelioma is at the core of what we are trying to do in our effort to connect patients and families with critical information. As with any illness, you will learn a lot as you meet with doctors, but it is important to do your own research as well. Here are some common mesothelioma questions we’ve heard asked over the years by newly diagnosed patients:

What exactly is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that attacks the mesothelium and is caused from exposure to airborne asbestos particles being inhaled and injested. Mesothelioma typically infects the pleura (lungs) or peritoneum (abdomen). The asbestos cancer forms around the lining of the organs. When infected by asbestos fibers, the cells of the mesothelium become abnormal and begin to divide at a rapid rate often causing malignant cells to develop and spread.

What causes Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma can be attributed to exposure to asbestos. Due to the long latency period of the disease, the asbestos exposure most often occurs decades prior to diagnosis, between 30-40 years prior in many cases. Many diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos in the workplace; however, the dangers of this exposure were also taken home to family members. Even low levels of exposure can lead to the development of mesothelioma. In addition, there are environmental exposures from deteriorating buildings and old asbestos construction materials to disturbances of naturally occurring asbestos in the earth.

How is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

If you have already received a mesothelioma diagnosis, then it may be a little less common to ask this question, but many family members and individuals in search of a second opinion are interested in understanding how mesothelioma is diagnosed. The symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to those of asbestosis, a non-cancerous yet life-threatening inflammation of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos and lung cancer, making it difficult to identify. A complete patient history is required to determine a mesothelioma diagnosis, including any exposure to asbestos. Of course, a physical examination is conducted as well as x-rays of the chest and abdominal area. A CT scan, MRI and biopsy are most often used to make a mesothelioma diagnosis.

What are the Mesothelioma treatment options?

The treatment of mesothelioma varies from case to case. Factors that influence treatment options for mesothelioma include the location of the asbestos cancer, how far the cancer has developed, and the age and health of the individual diagnosed. Treatment options include surgery to remove the cells, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The National Cancer Institute sponsors clinical trails to advance the treatment options for mesothelioma. Unfortunately, there currently is no cure for mesothelioma.

The toughest question, one of the first questions any normal person thinks of, is that of mesothelioma life expectancy. This must be determined on an individual basis. Like treatment, it depends greatly on the type of tumor (pleural mesothelioma or peritoneal mesothelioma), the stage of the disease, and the overall health of the patient.