Mesothelioma is a
type of lung cancer that disproportionately affects seniors. Most people who
are suffering from this disease are diagnosed after the age of 64, and the
5-year survival rate of mesothelioma is
only about 12 percent.
Although this is a
rare form of cancer, mesothelioma is responsible for taking more than 2,500
lives a year. In honor of Mesothelioma Awareness Day, here are some things
every senior should know about this life-altering cancer— including how it
develops and the signs to watch out for.
Some People Are More at Risk Than
cancers, Mesothelioma is only caused by one thing—asbestos exposure. Asbestos
is composed of sharp, microscopic fibers that lodge themselves in the lining of
the lungs and other organs when breathed in. This damages the tissue and leads
to abnormal cell growth that can eventually turn into mesothelioma or other
Some people are
more likely to have been exposed to asbestos than others. People who previously
worked with asbestos or asbestos-containing materials are more likely to
develop mesothelioma than those who didn't. Unfortunately, their family members
are also at a greater risk of developing this cancer due to being exposed via
their family member's clothes.
You may be at a
greater risk of developing mesothelioma if you used to work in any of these
Even if you didn't
work in one of these industries, your chances of being exposed to asbestos can
still be high. Before the 1970s, asbestos was used in a variety of consumer
products and building materials used in homes. Common household items such
as carpets, hairdryers, books, clothes, and even bowling balls were all homes
for asbestos. Because of this, it's estimated that 20 million people are at
risk of developing mesothelioma in their lifetime. If you grew up during these
times, it's possible that you may have been exposed.
The effects of
being exposed to asbestos are not immediate. It can take anywhere from 10-50
years for mesothelioma to start to show after you're first exposed. This is one
of the main reasons why seniors are more likely to have the disease than
younger adults. Because it takes so long for symptoms to occur, many
mesothelioma patients may not remember when they could have been exposed to
like how often you were exposed, your age at the time of exposure, and where
the cancer is located in the body can all impact how quickly you start seeing
health problems. If you're 64 or older, you should keep an eye out for common
symptoms of mesothelioma.
Symptoms Often Look Like Other Diseases
difficult to diagnose because of its lengthy latency period. It's also a rare
cancer with symptoms that look like different conditions. There are also
different types of mesothelioma that affect different parts of the body, which
can bring about varied types of symptoms that develop. A few early signs you
may notice are:
These symptoms can
be attributed to a multitude of different ailments, from the flu, to irritable
bowel syndrome, to heart disease. Over time, symptoms will worsen. In order to
find out if you have mesothelioma, your doctor will perform a series of
tests—including imaging scans, biopsies, and blood tests— to determine if this
is the disease you're dealing with.
Early Detection Could Save Your Life
Testing for early detection could be a lifesaver with mesothelioma. As the
cancer spreads to other parts of the body, available treatments become limited
and the chances of beating the cancer are slim.
There are four stages of mesothelioma, each based on how far the cancer has
spread throughout the body. In stages 1 and 2, patients may receive surgery to
remove cancerous tumors. Your doctors may suggest a multimodal approach as well
during these stages, meaning that your surgery will be supplemented with
chemotherapy or radiation to prolong your life and reduce symptoms.
At stages 3 and 4,
treatments are aimed at increasing your quality of life with the disease rather
than curing the cancer. Treatment options are limited and are less invasive than
the options available for earlier stages. The life expectancy is also shorter
at these stages, with patients typically only living for 12-16 months after
long latency period and vague symptoms make it unlikely that mesothelioma will
be caught in stages 1 or 2. If you're over the age of 65, have had a history of
high-risk asbestos exposure, and think you may be experiencing signs of
mesothelioma, it's important to communicate with your doctor so that they can
take the next steps in giving you a proper diagnosis.
mesothelioma is a serious disease, it's important for seniors to be aware of
how the disease develops, know who is most at risk, and to recognize the
symptoms Mesothelioma Awareness Day is the perfect opportunity to learn more
about this cancer, share this vital information with your loved ones, and to
make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your risks of developing it.