Abdominal fluid buildup is not only one of the most common symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma, but also the cause for other symptoms of the disease. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the name given to the form of the disease that develops in the abdomen. Mesothelioma is an aggressive type of cancer caused by long-term and continued exposure to asbestos. This type of cancer can affect different parts of the body, and the location where the tumors start to develop give the name to the four different forms of mesothelioma.
While pleural mesothelioma affects the lungs, pericardial mesothelioma develops in the heart and testicular mesothelioma in the testicles, peritoneal mesothelioma affects the abdomen and is the second most common form of this cancer, accounting for about 20 percent of all cases. The peritoneum is a protective, two-layer membrane surrounding the abdomen, with the parietal layer being the one around the abdominal cavity, and the visceral layer being the one that covers the stomach, liver, and other abdominal organs. Mesothelioma tumors can appear in each or both of these layers.
How Abdominal Fluid Buildup Affects Patients with Mesothelioma
The development of mesothelioma is in almost every case related to asbestos exposure. The material was widely used in construction and other activities before being identified as toxic. When it interacts with other materials, asbestos fibers are released in the air and may become trapped inside the body. In the case of peritoneal mesothelioma, it is thought to be related to swallowed asbestos fibers that travel from the digestive system to the peritoneum, or inhaled asbestos fibers that travel through the lymphatic system into the abdomen. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimate that millions of people were exposed to asbestos during the 20th century, and the onset of this type of cancer usually occurs 20 to 50 years after exposure.
As the asbestos fibers reach the peritoneum and consequently irritate the cells, the process starts to develop with thickening of the peritoneal lining. Abdominal fluid buildup, a symptom also known as ascites, is usually the second one to occur. When there is a small amount of fluid, patients may not even notice it, but as more fluid accumulates patients may experience pain and bloating. In extreme cases, it can even cause shortness of breath. As the disease progresses, more tumors start to form and put pressure the organs. Possible complications from abdominal fluid buildup include a life-threatening infection of the ascites fluid known as spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, weight loss and protein malnutrition, mental confusion, change in the level of alertness or coma, and kidney failure.
Management of Abdominal Fluid Buildup by Mesothelioma Patients
While the fluid in the abdomen is a problem and may have severe consequences, it can also be used to make a faster diagnosis of mesothelioma. Biopsy is an effective method of treatment, and during the procedure, physicians collect samples of fluid and tissue to be analyzed. When the diagnosis is confirmed, physicians define a treatment plan to ease the symptoms and improve patients’ quality of life, since there is currently no cure for the disease. When treating abdominal fluid buildup, physicians often recommend a procedure called paracentesis, during which a needle or catheter is used to remove the buildup of fluid in the abdominal cavity. As a result, patients usually experience relief of discomfort or pain caused by abdominal fluid buildup.
In addition, patients may undergo a cystoreductive surgery, which is the only surgical option available to treat peritoneal mesothelioma. The surgery involves the removal of tumors in the abdomen, which can be combined with other treatment options, such as chemotherapy, the most common treatment, which is administered directly to the abdomen during surgery. Radiation therapy is the least invasive type of treatment, and it may also be delivered during surgery. In the case of stage IV peritoneal cancer, treatment may be based on palliative care, given the wide spread of the cancer, which can make more aggressive treatments dangerous.
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