Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos that either gets inhaled into the lungs or ingested. Asbestos fibers are sharp, and they get easily stuck in the soft tissue of the lungs and stomach. The presence of these fibers creates irritation, and the prolonged inflammation causes mesothelial cells to divide uncontrollably, attack the body, and form tumors.
What is peritoneal mesothelioma?
When mesothelioma occurs in the stomach, it’s called peritoneal mesothelioma and impacts the membrane around the abdominal cavity. This type accounts for 10-15% of all cases and affects slightly more males (56%) than females (44%).
It usually takes decades for mesothelioma to be diagnosed because cancer doesn’t just appear overnight. However, by the time it’s noticed, it’s usually in a later stage. Most people aren’t diagnosed until 20-50 years after exposure.
There are benign and malignant forms of this cancer, but it’s impossible to know which type you have without medical intervention. Since this cancer is in the stomach, it’s common for it to metastasize into surrounding organs, like the intestines and liver.
To diagnose peritoneal mesothelioma and to find out if it’s malignant, doctors conduct a biopsy by scraping tissue while exploring the area with a camera.
What are the most common symptoms?
There are a host of symptoms that include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Constipation and other bowel problems
- Abdominal pain
- Night sweats
- Lumps in tissue
These symptoms are somewhat general; that’s why doctors have difficulty diagnosing this disease. It’s hard to know if someone has mesothelioma based on symptoms that also occur with common ailments.
There are plenty of other illnesses that share the above symptoms and since most people don’t have any reason to suspect they’ve been exposed to asbestos, mesothelioma is often the last thing they consider. A common issue mesothelioma gets mistaken for is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The only way to know for sure is to get an x-ray and/or CT scan followed by an MRI.
What causes peritoneal mesothelioma?
Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of this disease. However, there are multiple ways asbestos enters the body. In this particular illness, asbestos has been ingested and ends up in the peritoneum after traveling along the digestive tract.
How is peritoneal mesothelioma treated?
Like other cancers, there are two main treatment options: chemotherapy and surgery. A third option, immunotherapy, is available but has not been FDA-approved.
During the surgical treatments, called cytoreduction, tumors are removed as much as possible, and so are the peritoneum, along with parts of the intestines or liver, if necessary. It all depends on how far it’s spread.
The chemotherapy treatment administered to people with peritoneal mesothelioma is Heated Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC), which is far less damaging than traditional chemo. This gets delivered directly into the abdomen and bypasses the bloodstream. With this administration method, healthy body parts aren’t affected, and the drug attacks only the cells in the area of cancer.
What is the prognosis for peritoneal mesothelioma?
Just a couple of decades ago, the average survival rate was low in just one year. Using HIPEC as a treatment has increased the expected lifespan for someone who has this diagnosis. According to a study published in 2017, which included 405 patients, the median survival rate was 53 months, the five-year survival rate was 47%, and a couple of additional studies produced similar figures.
What to do if you suspect you have mesothelioma
If you think there’s a chance you might have any type of mesothelioma, the first thing to do is see your doctor. Since symptoms overlap with common ailments, like pneumonia and IBS, you might need to press the issue to avoid being dismissed. Some doctors won’t even consider mesothelioma before ruling out everything else. This makes sense, considering it’s not all that common, but if you’ve had symptoms for a while and they aren’t getting better, don’t drop the ball. Get a second opinion if needed and search for a specialist if possible.
When you receive a mesothelioma diagnosis, be prepared to have certain medical procedures done that will help you get the best possible outcome. You may find it helpful to reach out to support groups and talk to other people in the same position.
Getting sessions with a counselor might help as well, since it can be pretty stressful. If you know the source of your exposure, you may also want to consider filing a lawsuit to recover compensation for your illness.