Understanding Your Pericardial Mesothelioma Diagnosis

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Three-dimensional illustration of heart anatomyThe outlook for cancer patients is better than ever before, thanks to innovations in cancer research and technology. However, treatment for cancer patients is most effective when the cancer is caught early, making it more difficult for mesothelioma patients to get the treatment they need. Unfortunately, patients with pericardial mesothelioma face even more of a battle, as this rare condition is difficult to diagnose and may take decades to fully manifest before showing symptoms.

What Causes Pericardial Mesothelioma?

Pericardial mesothelioma accounts for less than three percent of all diagnosed mesotheliomas, making it the rarest type of this form of cancer. It occurs when cancerous tumors begin to grow in the thin lining around the heart (pericardium). These small tumors eventually grow through the lining and into the heart and may travel to the lymph nodes and other bodily systems.

The only known cause of this type of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. The fibers of this naturally-occurring mineral can easily become airborne, sending microscopic particles into people’s food, skin, or lungs. Once inside a person’s system, the particles cause irritation in the protective linings of the organs (mesothelium) that results in the growth of cancer cells.

People who suffer from pericardial mesothelioma are typically diagnosed many years after their initial exposure, meaning that patients could have inhaled asbestos in their workplace long before. Asbestos is still used in industrial and maritime settings and has been used in insulation, roofing materials, fire-retardants, and auto parts. While those most at risk include shipyard employees, firefighters, construction workers, power plant employees, and workers in manufacturing or demolition, exposure to any amount of asbestos has the potential to cause cancer.

Prognosis and Life Expectancy for Pericardial Mesothelioma

Since it is extremely rare, this type of mesothelioma is often overlooked or misdiagnosed for years, allowing the cancer to develop to a point where it is no longer operable. It is so difficult to detect that the majority of cases of pericardial mesothelioma are discovered through autopsy.

The potential life expectancy for pericardial mesothelioma varies from patient to patient, with some people living two years from diagnosis and others surviving for five or more. Early treatment can minimize the spread and damage of the cancer, and specialized mesothelioma care can extend lifespan even further.

A mesothelioma prognosis will depend on many different factors, including:

  • Cell type. Fifteen percent of mesothelioma patients have a mutation of sarcomatoid cells, which are less likely to respond well to treatment. About half of mesothelioma patients are diagnosed with cancerous epithelial cells, which are easier to treat. The remaining 35 percent have a combination of both cells affected.
  • Stage. Cancer that has remained in one place is more likely to respond to treatment than can her that has spread (metastasized). Your doctors should perform tests to determine the stage, or progression, of the cancer.
  • Current health. A patient’s age, mobility, blood cell count, specific symptoms, and overall health level play a role in his or her outlook.
  • Medical history. Patients who are male or have suffered previous heart conditions are more likely to suffer adverse effects of pericardial mesothelioma.

Treatment Options for Workers With Pericardial Mesothelioma

Treatments for pericardial mesothelioma are often complicated and costly, and may involve travel to specialized providers and medical care that is not covered by a patient’s insurance. For this reason, patients are encouraged to explore their legal rights to travel reimbursement, medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering damages from a former employer. Patients may also collect expedited benefits through Social Security disability’s compassionate allowance program, or medical care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Treatment options for pericardial mesothelioma are limited, and may include:

  • Surgery. Due to the close proximity to the heart, pericardial mesothelioma surgery is usually only performed in a handful of cases in the earliest stages. If the cancer is present on both sides of the mesothelium, surgical removal is usually not possible.
  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the most commonly-prescribed treatment for pericardial mesothelioma patients. If the patient is healthy at the start of treatment, chemotherapy may add months or even years to a patient’s prognosis.
  • Radiation. Radiation is used in some pericardial mesothelioma cases, both to relieve symptoms and shrink tumors. However, radiation may damage the heart over time, so this treatment is limited.
  • Pericardiocentesis. Pericardial mesothelioma patients often suffer from a buildup of fluid in the pericardium, causing the lining to “squeeze” the heart and placing the patient at risk. A pericardiocentesis may be performed to drain the fluid, relieving the pressure and discomfort on the patient.
  • Experimental treatments. There are some emerging treatments that have the potential to benefit pericardial mesothelioma patients. Immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own immune system to destroy cancer cells, has had positive effects in some patients. Other clinical trials have involved gene therapy (modifying the mutations in a cancer cell’s genetic code) and photodynamic therapy (destroying cancer cells using specialized light sources combined with a photosensitizing agent).
  • Alternative treatments. Patients may find relief from their symptoms and the emotional pain of diagnosis through alternative treatment, such as yoga, meditation, diet modification, or massage therapy.

The attorneys at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault are dedicated to serving the needs of mesothelioma victims throughout the state of Louisiana. A cancer diagnosis can be frightening and overwhelming, but we can help you can take control and make the decisions you need to get the best care possible. Simply fill out the contact form on this page to schedule a free consultation, or call us at (318) 541-8188. To learn more about options, order our free e-book, Mesothelioma and Your Legal Rights.

Richard J. Arsenault
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Recognized by several legal associations, Richard Arsenault has vast experience in complex litigation cases.