Since the early 20th century, it’s been known that prolonged exposure to asbestos was a severe health risk. There was evidence that central Cappadocia, Turkey could trace as many as half the city’s dead back to exposure to asbestos, which leads to mesothelioma. In all that time, this form of cancer has been particularly difficult to deal with. Symptoms may not show up for 50 years, and though imaging can help in diagnosis, it is not guaranteed.
Mesothelioma attacks a patient’s internal organs. It causes patients to lose weight, develop a mass in the abdomen, experience low blood sugar levels, incredible amounts of pain and potential blood clots. Most people diagnosed with the disease don’t have a very positive outlook on life and are understandably concerned about the future.
We’re not quite at a cure for mesothelioma, but we’ve made significant progress in other areas related to this troublesome form of cancer, such as detection. The hope is that we may be able to identify mesothelioma before severe symptoms develop, making treatment possible.
Part of the problem with a cure for cancer is that we need a method to distinguish cells from one another. According to the Mesothelioma Center, scientists are exploring the use of beacon probes, which emit fluorescence when they come into contact with certain cells, to help identify cancer cells.
The challenge is telling the probe how to find that particular cancer cell, and developing a probe able to identify and distinguish that cell. As cancer cells are mutations, that presents a unique and complex problem for engineers. Identification is the first step in a true cure, so some research and effort is being spent. Fortunately, this is not the only avenue for treatment.
One day, it is hoped that patients can use a breath or urine sample to detect this rare form of cancer. Less-invasive tests are key in getting patients to step forward. By the time mesothelioma approaches stage III, treatment options have already been limited.
Medical engineers have begun testing, and in some cases utilizing gene therapy as a method of treating mesothelioma. Patients are injected with what the body recognizes as a virus. This virus is designed to replace defective cells, like a Trojan horse for cancer cells. The result can halt tumor growth entirely in some cases. While not guaranteed, this method represents a major potential breakthrough that is far less invasive than surgery.
A related method involves tricking the patient’s immune system into doing battle with the cancer cells. Immunotherapy harnesses the body’s internal defenses in this quest, but leaves healthy cells flourishing. Materials that are created inside the body, or in a lab setting, can be introduced to the body to strengthen the immune system.
Legal and Financial Help
According to Baron and Budd, a prominent firm in mesothelioma litigation, those diagnosed with this form of cancer have almost always been exposed to asbestos. They point out that patients often want to settle medical concerns before pursuing any kind of legal litigation.
There are two major issues with this approach:
- Medical bills are not getting any cheaper.
- Companies responsible for the exposure may be out of business.
First, seek assistance in paying your medical bills as soon as you can. You are not at fault for the exposure, and should not be treated as such. If you cannot immediately claim help through insurance, contact a lawyer.
If the company is out of business, or you had a loved one exposed who recently passed, there is also hope to gain some kind of compensation and closure for your losses. Funds were set up that help patients pay medical expenses, which can clear massive debt off one’s books and ensure a safe and healthy retirement.
Mesothelioma is a major challenge for patients, and for health professionals. Without early detection, prospects are not positive. This form of cancer is rare, but it is no less severe. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of mesothelioma, and even if you are not, it may be worth asking your doctor about detection and screening.