Most people learn about mesothelioma in one of two ways. They learn about the disease after running across advertisements for mesothelioma attorneys. Or they or someone they love receives a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Without one of these introductions, most people don’t know much about mesothelioma. This is because it’s a rare cancer. Its rarity makes it different from other forms of cancer, but it is different in other ways, too. Here, we look at four ways that mesothelioma differs from other cancers.
The asbestos connection
The most important thing to understand about mesothelioma is its connection to asbestos. Nearly all cases of mesothelioma start with asbestos exposure.
Manufacturers used asbestos in all kinds of different products. Everything from ceiling tiles and insulation to fake fireplace logs and hair dryers. They did this even after they learned the mineral could cause cancer.
These asbestos-laden materials start to break down and release fibers into the air. These fibers are extremely resistant. Once they get into the body, they can spur a cycle of immune responses and inflammation. Over time, this cycle can cause cells to break down. Tumors form.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, there are many ways you might suffer asbestos exposure:
- Exposed at work
- Contact with asbestos fibers on work clothes
- Living or working amid fibers from old construction materials
- Proximity to fibers from natural deposits or mines
Because manufacturers chose to use asbestos when they knew it was toxic, mesothelioma victims and their families frequently qualify for compensation.
The problems of rarity
Mesothelioma’s rarity makes it harder for doctors to diagnose and treat the disease.
There are different definitions for a “rare cancer.” The National Cancer Institute says rare cancers affect fewer than 40,000 Americans per year. Others identify them as cancers that affect less than 15 out of 100,000 people each year.
Rare cancers like mesothelioma tend to share some common problems:
- It takes doctors longer to diagnose the diseases because they first associate the symptoms with other problems
- Patients often have more difficulty finding doctors who have previously treated the disease
- Patients may have to travel long distances to work with experienced treatment teams
- Smaller sample sizes can slow the research process
Importantly, patients can find good treatment. Researchers do advance newer and better treatments. But patients, doctors and researchers must all overcome additional challenges when they deal with these rare cancers.
The long latency period
Mesothelioma isn’t the only cancer that can take a long time to develop. However, victims can live and work for decades without showing any signs of illness. In 2015, the CDC reported that the median latency period was 32 years. One-third of all victims received their diagnoses 40 or more years after their exposure to asbestos.
It can be hard to remember anything for 40 years. You may not think about your history of asbestos exposure during your medical exams. Yet that information is often the key to getting a good diagnoses as early as possible.
The long latency period also means that most people receive their mesothelioma diagnoses later in life. This can affect their treatment options and outlook.
Finally, mesothelioma is biologically distinct from other cancers. These distinctions can further complicate matters:
- Mesothelioma forms in the pleural membrane that lines various organs and often forms as multiple tumors that grow together, rather than as one single, well-defined tumor
- There are multiple forms of mesothelioma based on location and cell type
- Mesothelioma tumors made of sarcomatoid cells are typically more resistant to treatment
There are other differences that may also affect treatment. Still, the point is that these biological differences continue to distinguish mesothelioma from other forms of cancer.
These differences highlight the importance of tailored treatment
Because mesothelioma is different from other cancers, you don’t want generic treatment. You want to make sure your doctor understands your history of asbestos exposure during your diagnosis. You want to work with a treatment team that is aware of the latest research and treatment options.
The best outcomes tend to feature aggressive and multimodal treatment approaches. They tend to feature experienced treatment teams. These treatments may cost a good deal of money, but an experienced mesothelioma attorney can help you pursue the treatment you deserve.