Malignant mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer most often caused by a prolonged, occupational exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma typically targets senior citizens long after their workplace exposure ended, turning the well-planned retirement years into a nightmare.
Although there is a long latency period (20-50 years) between first exposure and diagnosis, mesothelioma is aggressive once it take hold, often leaving a patient with a life expectancy of just 6-18 months.
Unlike breast, prostate, lung or other more common cancers, mesothelioma remains a mystery to many in the medical profession.
It is difficult to diagnose and even tougher to control once it begins to metastasize.
Early Symptoms to Watch
Seniors should be aware of the early signs — shortness of breath, persistent dry cough, fatigue, pain in the chest, and night sweats — and talk to their primary care physician about them.
Also in that conversation, seniors should talk about their work history and any previous exposure to asbestos products.
The symptoms alone often mirror those of more common and less serious problems, complicating the diagnostic process. Seniors may attribute them to old age and miss the chance to diagnose this disease early, before it has metastasized, and when it is most treatable.
It is misdiagnosed too often.
Mesothelioma begins when toxic, microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested unknowingly. They become trapped in the thin membrane surrounding the lungs or abdomen.
They slowly cause inflammation, eventual scarring and abnormalities in the cells of the membrane, leading to respiratory health issues such as asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.
Average Age at Diagnosis Is 69
Rarely is anyone under the age of 60 diagnosed with this cancer. The average age at diagnosis is 69.
The key to treating mesothelioma is finding it early, and finding a mesothelioma specialist who understands its intricacies and the latest therapies.
Treatment advances have been made in recent years, providing hope for many patients. A multidisciplinary approach that includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation has been effective in extending survival time.
This is a cancer with no definitive cure, but if diagnosed early enough, specialists can take a curative approach, moving it closer to becoming controllable like diabetes.
There are cutting-edge immunotherapy and gene therapy drugs being tested now in clinical trials and showing considerable promise in controlling it.
Organizations That Help Seniors
There are organizations like the Pleural Mesothelioma Center that can provide help for families dealing with a diagnosis of mesothelioma. They can help you find medical specialists, top treatment centers, support groups, offer expert advice and even provide financial assistance for those in need. Patient Advocates there can answer any questions you may have.
Kind Companions also can help, finding in-home caregivers that will provide the personalized assistance that a patient or a family may need in dealing with this disease.