Mesothelioma is a type of cancer caused in the majority of the cases by continued asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a natural mineral that was used for 100 years in industries like construction, shipbuilding and manufacturing. It was woven and mixed into cement before it was proven toxic during the 20th century. If left untouched, asbestos may be harmless, but when it is disturbed, asbestos fibers can be released into the air. These fibers can be swallowed or inhaled and the body cannot properly expel them. Despite being rare, mesothelioma is an aggressive type of cancer that develops in the mesothelial cells.
The asbestos fibers become trapped in these cells, which surround some organs, forming a membrane known as the mesothelium. Over time, the cells become irritated, causing the formation of tumors. In about 70% of cases, mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs, known as the pleura, and it is called pleural mesothelioma. About 20% of the cases occur in the lining of the abdomen and it is known as pericardial mesothelioma, while pericardial mesothelioma refers to the disease in the lining of the heart and testicular mesothelioma occurs in the tunica vaginalis testis.
How Reduced Chest Expansion Affects Patients with Mesothelioma
It can take 20 to 50 years between asbestos exposure and the onset of mesothelioma symptoms. The signs of the disease differ according to its form, and reduced chest expansion is related to pleural mesothelioma. Reduced chest expansion is often a symptom of advanced stages of the disease and it is caused by the lack of space in the chest. This problem is usually the result of severe pleural effusions, which is a symptom of mesothelioma and is related to inflammation of the lung from a tumor growth. Pleural effusions consist on a large amount of fluid accumulated between the lungs and chest cavity.
Healthy people have a certain amount of fluid in the pleura, pericardium, and peritoneum that keeps the organs moist. The normal level of fluid is the equivalent to about a couple of teaspoons and when it is exceeded, the body can naturally expel it. However, patients who suffer from mesothelioma cannot properly evacuate the fluid and it accumulates in the space between the lungs and chest cavity. Therefore, in severe cases, the fluid prevents the lungs from normally functioning, causing difficulties breathing, wheezing, shortness of breath and reduced chest expansion.
Management of Reduced Chest Expansion by Mesothelioma Patients
There is currently no cure for mesothelioma, but there are treatment options that can help ease the symptoms. Chemotherapy and / or radiation therapy are used to kill cancerous cells or shrink the tumor. In addition, surgery can also be an option to resect the tumors. In the case of reduced chest expansion, there are also other procedures that address pleural effusions. Thoracentesis is the oldest surgical procedure and it consists on the use of a needle to drain the fluid. During a thoracentesis, a local anesthesia is applied and an ultrasound or CT scan may be used to guide the needle. A pleurodesis is a different surgical procedure with the same purpose. During a pleurodesis, the surgeon not only drains the fluid, but also closes the pleural space where more fluid may accumulate again.
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