Mesothelioma is an aggressive but rare type of cancer that occurs in the mesothelial cells due to exposure to asbestos. This material is a natural mineral widely used for over 100 years in industries such as construction and ship building. Despite its properties of heat resistance, tensile strength and insulation, it has been proven toxic during the 20th century. Asbestos can remain harmless for years, but when it interacts with other materials, fibers are released into the air. These fibers can be swallowed or inhaled, and the body has difficulties in properly expelling them. As a consequence, the fibers become housed in the mesothelium, which is the lining of mesothelial cells that covers the organs, keeping them moist.
There are four different types of mesothelioma, defined according to the location where the cancer has developed. Pleural mesothelioma refers to the lining of the lungs, the pleura, while peritoneal mesothelioma is the one that affects the lining of the abdomen, also known as peritoneum, pericardial mesothelioma refers to the pericardium, which is the lining of the heart, and testicular mesothelioma to the tunica vaginalis. Different forms of the disease result in different symptoms, but chest pain is one of the most common signs of both pleural and pericardial mesothelioma.
How Chest Pain Affects Patients with Mesothelioma
Chest pain can be an indicator of numerous conditions, as is the case with mesothelioma. Between exposure to asbestos and the first signs of the disease, it can take decades, but patients with pleural and pericardial mesothelioma often experience persistent chest pain due to the spreading of cancer. One of the reasons of it is the fact that the disease prevents the lungs and heart from properly function. Breathing or pumping the blood become more difficult, which results in severe chest pain. Localized pain is often related to mesothelioma growth, while generalized pain is more associated with widespread cell damage.
In the lungs, the spread of mesothelioma creates pressure in the chest and surrounding areas, causing pain. In the heart, the natural muscular rhythm is affected and the heart cannot properly pump the blood, regulate or beat. As result of chest pain, patients often experience as well difficulty breathing or swallowing, shortness of breath and coughing. In addition, buildup of fluid is also a possibility for patients with mesothelioma, which causes chest pain. Coughing and gasping for air are other problems that affects mesothelioma patients and cause chest pain. Due to its severity, this symptom can be mistaken by a heart attack.
Management of Chest Pain by Mesothelioma Patients
“Pain management is an important part of the medical management of mesothelioma. Over fifty percent of mesothelioma patients report they suffer from pain at some time during their battle with the disease. The most common pain-related symptoms reported by patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma are general pain, back pain, and chest pain. Patients can get pain from several different sources, which is why the assessment of pain needs to be thorough and extensive,” states nurse Lisa Hyde-Barrett in an opinion article about the topic. “Pain can be managed if it is included as part of the mesothelioma treatment plan. Pain and palliative care specialists are experts in pain control. Palliative care specialists treat the symptoms, side effects, and emotional problems of both cancer and its treatment.”
There is currently no cure for mesothelioma and the treatments available are designed to ease patients’ symptoms and extent their life span. The management of chest pain in these patients is based on the treatment of the underlying cause for it. There are three main treatment options, which can be recommended alone or in combination. These include surgery to resect the tumors, chemotherapy, which is the most common treatment and can be administered before, during or after the surgery, as well as radiation therapy, which have the same options and is the least invasive treatment. In addition, as the disease progresses, more aggressive treatment options may become dangerous, and palliative care may be preferable.
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