Sadly, the majority of victims are not diagnosed until they are already in the advanced mesothelioma stages. By this point, treatment efforts are generally limited, and patients are often given only a few months left to live. The reasons for the prevalence of late-stage diagnoses and an explanation of their universal terminability make up the following sections.
Diagnostic Difficulties and the Case for Early Screening
Mesothelioma has an unusually long latency period, which, when coupled with its ambiguous and seemingly mild symptoms, makes the disease notoriously difficult to spot even for seasoned medical professionals.
Because many of those in the high-risk category – namely, individuals who have experienced regular and/or heavy asbestos exposure – are not on alert for the early warning signs of mesothelioma, it is easy for those first important indicators to be missed. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions usually take anywhere from 20-50 years to began develop to the point where symptoms are present, meaning that it is common for even those who are aware of their past exposure risk to have a lack of vigilance by the time the warning signs are there.
Additionally, the most common symptoms experienced in the early mesothelioma stages are relatively common – mimicking far less serious conditions like the common cold and flu. Even doctors who are not experienced in diagnosing mesothelioma – an overall rare condition – can easily misattribute its early symptoms to something else entirely without performing in-depth medical testing.
The lack of screening measures available to those with a history of asbestos exposure is one factor believed to liable for the high rate of misdiagnoses and late-stage diagnoses. Currently, cancer researchers are working to develop two different blood tests designed to indicate the possible presence of mesothelioma while still in its earliest stages.
The Physical Effects of Late-Stage Mesothelioma
Stage 3 and stage 4 mesothelioma are virtually impossible to treat and essentially ineligible for remission because the degree of damage already done to the body is too extensive for reversal. By the time a patient has reached the late mesothelioma stages, the cancer has metastasized – meaning that malignant cells have spread throughout the body, sometimes invading even anatomically distant organs. Metastasis renders surgical removal impossible and limits all conventional treatment options to palliative use only.
Palliative care is intended to decrease pain and discomforts produced by advanced mesothelioma symptoms and improve patients’ quality of life. Examples include prescription pain medication, various forms of respiratory therapy and training in assorted relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation.