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Mesothelioma

About

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops in the lining that covers the outer surface of some of the body's organs. It's usually linked to asbestos exposure.

Mesothelioma mainly affects the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), although it can also affect the lining of the tummy (peritoneal mesothelioma), heart or testicles.

More than 2,600 people are diagnosed with the condition each year in the UK. Most cases are diagnosed in people aged 60-80 and men are affected more commonly than women.

Unfortunately it's rarely possible to cure mesothelioma, although treatment can help control the symptoms.

This page covers:

Symptoms of mesothelioma

What causes mesothelioma?

How mesothelioma is diagnosed

Treatments for mesothelioma

Outlook for mesothelioma

Links to more information

Symptoms of mesothelioma

The symptoms of mesothelioma tend to develop gradually over time. They typically don't appear until several decades after exposure to asbestos.

Symptoms of mesothelioma in the lining of the lungs include:

Symptoms of mesothelioma in the lining of the tummy include:

See your GP if you have any persistent or worrying symptoms. Tell them about any exposure to asbestos you may have had in the past.

What causes mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos, a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres that used to be widely used in construction.

These tiny fibres can easily get in the lungs, where they get stuck, damaging the lungs over time. It usually takes a while for this to cause any obvious problems, with mesothelioma typically developing more than 20 years after exposure to asbestos.

The use of asbestos was completely banned in 1999, so the risk of exposure is much lower nowadays. However, materials containing asbestos are still found in many older buildings.

Read more about asbestos and people at risk of exposure and avoiding exposure to asbestos.

How mesothelioma is diagnosed

If your GP suspects mesothelioma, they will refer you to a hospital specialist for some tests.

A number of different tests may need to be carried out, including:

  • an X-ray of your chest or tummy
  • computerised tomography (CT) scan – a number of X-ray images are taken to create a detailed image of the inside of the body
  • fluid drainage – if there's a build-up of fluid around the lungs or in the tummy, a sample may be removed using a needle inserted through the skin so the fluid can be analysed
  • a thoracoscopy or laparoscopy – the inside of your chest or tummy is examined with a long, thin camera that's inserted through a small cut (incision) under sedation or anaesthetic; a sample of tissue (biopsy) may be removed so it can be analysed

These tests can help diagnose mesothelioma and show how far it has spread.

Treatments for mesothelioma

The best treatment for mesothelioma depends on several factors, including how far the cancer has spread and your general health.

As mesothelioma is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, treatment is usually focused on controlling the symptoms and prolonging life for as long as possible. This is known as palliative or supportive care.

Possible treatments include:

  • chemotherapy – this is the main treatment for mesothelioma and involves using medicine to help shrink the cancer
  • radiotherapy – this involves using high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and it may be used to slow the cancer down and keep it under control
  • surgery – an operation to remove the cancerous area can be done if mesothelioma is detected at a very early stage, although it's not clear whether surgery is helpful

You'll also probably have treatment for your individual symptoms to help you feel as comfortable as possible. For example, regularly draining fluid from your chest may help your breathing and strong painkillers may help relieve your pain.

Sometimes, a procedure is carried out to stop the fluid coming back again by making the outside of the lungs stick to the inside of your chest (pleurodesis), or a tube is put in your chest to drain the fluid regularly at home. Your doctors should discuss these treatments with you.

Outlook for mesothelioma

Unfortunately the outlook for mesothelioma tends to be poor. This is because it doesn't usually cause any obvious symptoms until late on and it can progress quite quickly once it reaches this stage.

Overall:

  • around half (50%) of people with mesothelioma will live at least a year after diagnosis
  • around one in every 10 people (10%) with mesothelioma will live at least five years after diagnosis

There are currently around 2,500 deaths from mesothelioma each year in the UK.

More information

If you'd like to find out more about mesothelioma, the following organisations can provide further information, advice and support:

Cancer Research UK 

Macmillan Cancer Support

British Lung Foundation

Mesothelioma UK

GOV.UK - mesothelioma payments

Further information on mesothelioma

Information Prescription Service

To access the Information Prescription Service and the national cancer information pathway for mesothelioma cancer please click on the link below. Then click on 'Specialist information from our charity partners'

 

www.nhs.uk

Macmillan Cancer Support Website

www.macmillan.org.uk

Cancer Research UK Website

www.cancerresearchuk.org

Further Information

Visit or phone a local cancer information centre

There are several cancer information and support centres in Essex Cancer Network where anyone affected by cancer can be sure of a warm welcome and high quality, accurate, evidence-based information:

Basildon Hospital Macmillan Info and Support Centre, Outpatients Dept, Basildon Hospital, staffed Monday 2pm - Friday 12.30pm,tel: 0845 155 3111 extension 4908

Macmillan Info and Support Centre,Essex County Hospital, Outpatients Dept, Monday - Friday office hours, tel: 01206 747474

Information Resource Service, St Luke's House, Corringham,Thurrock, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01375 648170

Lantern Suite, Farleigh Hospice,Chelmsford, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01245 457418

Hospice Outreach Project Information Bus, Farleigh Hospice, covers the Chelmsford area. Contact Farleigh Hospice as above

For more information, please contact the service direct.

 

Visit your local library in Essex Cancer Network

Essex, Southend and Thurrock library services have worked in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support and the Essex Cancer Network to establish collections of quality assured information books and pamphlets about cancer. These can be accessed at any library: just ask. Additionally some staff at libraries have been trained to help patients use the Information Prescription Service.

Contact Macmillan Cancer Support Helplines

If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just someone to talk to, call free, Monday to Friday 9am - 8pm (interpretation service available) tel: 0808 808 0000

For financial queries tel: 0808 808 2232

 

Remember: Stay safe online when looking for support!

Internet chat rooms and message forums can be valuable sources of support and comfort, enabling you to meet others in the same position. However, there is potential for abuse - please read these guidelines before you set off to explore...

Click here to download the draft guidelines

 

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