Cancer is one of the most terrifying and deadliest diseases ever to exist Fatal. It can affect almost any organ of the human body Mesothelioma, destroying it to the point of no return. If diagnosed at its early stages, the chances are that the victim may still recover and get back to their life.
But a slight delay in detection could be the difference between life and death. If left untreated, this lethal disease spreads from its point of origin to distant organs, latching onto surrounding nerves and tissues, thus compromising the integrity of the whole body.
This illness impacts the victim psychologically and physically, leaving behind scars that last a lifetime.
What is Mesothelioma?
An average of 9.8 million people lose their lives annually while battling cancer, making it the leading cause of fatalities worldwide. Of all cancers, one of the most aggressive and lethal is a form of lung cancer called Mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a rare disorder that affects the mesothelial cells present within the linings of various organs. Like other forms of cancer, Mesothelioma too starts with just a few mutations within the DNA of healthy cells.
Genetically altered cells behave abnormally and divide much faster than usual. Accumulation of damaged cells leads to the formation of a mass that is malignant in nature and can invade adjacent nerves and tissues.
With limited mesothelioma treatment options available, the key is an early diagnosis because only if the tumor is detected at its initial stages can it be fully resected. Once the cancer moves to state 2 or 3, it’s untreatable.
Depending on the region affected, we can classify Mesothelioma into two main groups:
- Pleural Mesothelioma: affects the mesothelial cells within the pleura – a double-layered membranous covering surrounding and protecting the lungs.
Pleural Mesothelioma makes up 90% of the cases reported.
- Peritoneal Mesothelioma: attacks the mesothelial cells within the peritoneum – a thin layer of connective tissue surrounding the abdominal cavity and holding the digestive organs in place.
Causes: Research is still ongoing to find the definitive cause that leads to Mesothelioma, but scientists believe both heredity and environmental factors come into play.
Many studies also demonstrate a strong link between the illness and a natural mineral present within our environment called asbestos.
In its natural state, this element doesn’t do much harm, but when disintegrated, it transitions into tiny toxic fibers which can be easily inhaled or ingested.
Its high tensile strength, non-degradability, heat, and electrical resistance make it useful and lethal.
Workers in construction, mining, engineers, metal, and furniture works are at significant risk of asbestos exposure since this material is utilized in the making of flooring, roofing, brakes, and insulating covers.
If repeatedly inhaled, asbestos fibers accumulate within the respiratory tract releasing toxins and triggering inflammation. This irritation causes the cells to malfunction and mutate.
How Does Mesothelioma Become Fatal?
There are two main ways a disease like Mesothelioma can be life-threatening. The condition either becomes terminal if it isn’t detected at the earlier stages or serves as the underlying cause for other fatal health conditions.
Mesothelioma develops in a series of 4 stages, each worst than the one before it. With every transition, the disease strengthens its grounds and integrates itself deeper into the victim’s body.
- Stage 1A: The initial most stage is when the tumor is limited to one side of the chest only. Healthy mesothelial cells within the visceral pleura (external layer) have been genetically altered and are dividing at a significantly high speed.
Cancer has formed a parasitic attachment with the victim’s body and is utilizing its nutrition and fuel to grow and divide
- Stage 1B: The mutations that only affect the external layer have made their way to the parietal pleura (internal layer), which is much closer to the internal tissue of the lungs.
The malignancy spreads and progresses towards the surrounding organs like the diagram and mediastinum (space between the two lungs).
Despite the growth, the tumor is still restricted to one side of the chest.
- Stage 2: The malignancy has now fully spread across both the layers of the pleura. It also invades a small portion of the mediastinum and is making its way towards the heart and the second lung.
Moreover, the mass of cancerous cells is now progressing in the direction of the lymph nodes.
- Stage 3: This is where the condition becomes severe as the damage is now widespread and can no longer be contained. The mutations which were localized to the lung have spread far beyond it.
They have managed to affect at least one of the following critical organs like heart, abdomen, spine, or ribcage. With a large chunk of the mediastinum degraded, the second lung is now compromised as well.
- Stage 4: The illness has become terminal and has caused irreversible damage to the critical organs of the respiratory system.
At this stage, the malignancy spreads to the lungs across the pericardium and invades the body’s lymphatic system.
By latching onto the lymph nodes, cancer can easily travel to distant organs and attach itself to nerves making treatment next to impossible.
With cancer now integrated into various regions of the body, chances of survival and life expectancy are significantly reduced.
Mesothelioma beyond stage 3 is irreversible and untreatable. The cancerous cells are too widespread to be removed from the body.
While doctors cannot offer a cure, they suggest palliative care and mild treatment to manage the symptoms, delay progression, and help the patients live a normal life.
While palliative care procedures can’t reverse the harm caused, they can slow down the spread, reduce pain and allow patients to survive longer.
Other Health Consequences:
The increase in cancerous cells and the invasion of foreign articles severely weakens the immune system, which is at a constant battle with the body itself.
While professionals are still working to come up with more effective and efficient cures to tackle Mesothelioma, so far, there’s no solution to eliminate this illness from the core.
Prevention is indeed better than cure. Taking preventative measures, using personal protective equipment, and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle are small habits that’ll always keep you on top of your health.