Asbestos was, at one point, an incredibly popular construction material in North America. As a great insulator, it was in almost every home, especially in the colder, Northern states. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a fun fact of the day. Exposure to asbestos can cause irreversible inflammation and gradual genetic changes that eventually lead to cancer.
Because of its versatility, asbestos is in a number of different products, including insulation, cement, clay, plaster, paint, vinyl, adhesives, and coffee makers. With its prevalence as a popular material, anyone could have been exposed to asbestos in their lifetime, sometimes without even realizing it.
How do you develop cancer from asbestos?
Asbestos is a material that was once used for construction all over the United States, as it was a great insulation material. It pulls apart into flexible, smaller fibers, invisible to the naked eye. Human bodies are not built to process or expel these synthetic fibers, and so they stay inside the body and can cause inflammation and harmful changes in the body that make a person vulnerable to cancer.
The material itself is made of six different fibers, all naturally occurring mineral fibers. These fibers can separate incredibly easily, are invisible to the naked eye, and are airborne once they start to come apart. From being airborne, they can be inhaled or swallowed, and can cause damage to a number of internal organs, especially the lungs. From this exposure, the fibers can collect, build up and lead to health complications, worst of all, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
What affects the latency period of mesothelioma?
Asbestos is a terrifying material because even short exposure or environmental exposure to it can put you at risk of developing cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer that develops from asbestos exposure, known as mesothelioma, is incurable and will often take years and years to show any symptoms. Symptoms may take a terrifying 15 to 70 years to manifest in the body. This latency period can often stretch over years and years, but the prognosis after mesothelioma is often tragically short.
Lifestyle choices definitely play a part in the development of cancer in the body too. Asbestos exposure can be the main factor, but exposing your body to bad habits can also exacerbate the cancer or accelerate its growth. Smoking, poor diet, poor fitness or heavy alcohol consumption can affect your body and the cancer growth.
What kind of prognosis should a mesothelioma patient expect?
Because of its unpredictable latency period, mesothelioma is extremely difficult to diagnose. Often, its symptoms can be confused for different respiratory illnesses, and sometimes can only be caught once the cancer has already spread and it’s too late.
Survival rates can be different for every patient, but typically, the prognosis is not optimistic. The lifespan of someone that is diagnosed with mesothelioma can be as short as 18 months.
What can affect this prognosis?
Mesothelioma is an unpredictable type of cancer with no known cure, and so the prognosis is often quite bleak. Being difficult to treat and even harder to catch early, a mesothelioma diagnosis is one of the hardest to deal with. Surviving mesothelioma is certainly possible, but what affects the growth of this specific type of cancer?
The factors that affect the progression of mesothelioma include:
- The type of mesothelioma – There are four different types of mesothelioma, and the type is decided by where in your body it develops. Some types progress faster and spread quickly, and some are easier to treat and can allow for a slightly longer prognosis. The worst kind that exists might be pericardial mesothelioma, because it is the most challenging to treat, and present the shortest life span expectation post prognosis to patients.
- The stage of the disease – Like all cancers, the earlier mesothelioma is caught, the better the patient’s chances are of responding to treatment. If diagnosed at earlier stages like Stage 1 or Stage 2, a patient may have a higher chance of surviving for a longer period of time. Conversely, when caught later at Stage 3 or 4, the cancer will have progressed further along, and be more difficult to treat.
- Feasibility of operation – Often, most cancer treatments involve invasive surgical treatment to attempt to excise an early stage, cancerous tumour. Depending on the age and the health and general operability of a patient, doctors may suggest this as a way to increase the patient’s chances of survival. However, this method has not shown promising results for a majority of patients yet.
- The patient’s health and other conditions – If a patient has any and all underlying conditions, or if the patient is older, their chances of survivability unfortunately become much lower. For example, if a patient has kidney or heart conditions, treatment options become limited for them.
- Tolerance for treatment – All patients are different and will all respond differently to treatment. That said, considering the health of patients and the resources available to them, their treatment options can become limited. Some treatment options can be more expensive, more invasive than others.
How can you help yourself after a mesothelioma diagnosis?
A mesothelioma diagnosis is not the most optimistic of things to hear in your lifetime, but there are methods you can explore to improve your quality of life through treatment and hopefully have the added benefit of improving your life expectancy.
One of the most reliable to see if you are eligible for treatment. If you are diagnosed at stage 1 or stage 2, you can be eligible for early stage treatment, and you can receive multimodal therapy which can combine surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. However, if you are diagnosed later, during stage 3 or 4, you may approach your doctor about late stage treatment.
Another option is to try is to switch to a more nutritious diet, rich with plant foods and low in red meat and processed food. You can add more fruit and vegetables to your diet, limit your red and processed meat consumption, and choose whole grains. It’s also best to leave behind any alcohol consumption.
Finally, one method to explore is to consider clinical trials. There are advances in medicine made all the time, and consider that all medicines on the market started out in their own clinical trial phase. The first thing to do is to speak to your doctor to weigh the benefits for yourself, and if you are able to, find a patient that went through the same trials to find out how it was for them, or a family member of that patient. Their perspective will be valuable to you as you enter clinical trials.