Mesothelioma is a terribly aggressive and destructive disease. Like all cancers, it causes the patient to become highly susceptible to a variety of medical conditions that might otherwise have a minimal effect on a healthy individual. In this article, we’ll look more closely at the way mesothelioma develops in the body over time, and what complicating health conditions can worsen its effects.
Can Mesothelioma Worsen?
As a type of cancer, mesothelioma is a progressive disease. There are four stages of mesothelioma used to denote its progression in the body: Stage 1 through Stage 4. Pleural mesothelioma (cancer in the lung lining) is the only type with official staging. But the staging system is often used unofficially to describe the progressions of the other types of mesothelioma as well. The four stages follow the evolution of the disease from localized (confined to a single location) to metastasized (spread throughout the body). The term “metastasis” describes when the cancer metastasizes (spreads) from its original location. Metastasis is the natural course of a disease like cancer. Mesothelioma may spread through tissue, blood, and the lymph system. Please refer to our glossary to learn more about medical terminology for mesothelioma patients and families.
People who receive a mesothelioma diagnosis are usually in the later stages of the disease. For mesothelioma, the latency period (the amount of time between the initial exposure to asbestos and the diagnosis) averages between 20 and 50 years, and can be as long as 70 years. While an early diagnosis is always the ideal, mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that works quickly once symptoms begin. By the time a patient is diagnosed by a physician using X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, or biopsies, it is often the case that the disease cannot be cured through treatment.
This leaves the body in a highly vulnerable state, susceptible to a variety of other conditions which can worsen a mesothelioma patient’s overall health, comfort, and quality of life. Let’s look at a few of the exacerbating conditions to which many mesothelioma patients are often prone.
What Conditions Can Be Dangerous for Mesothelioma Patients?
Medical conditions that may be mild to moderate in healthy individuals can be deadly to mesothelioma patients. When symptoms have presented and the disease has been diagnosed, patients’ immune systems are in most cases severely compromised. Even the side effects of treatments like chemotherapy and immunotherapy can cause a person diagnosed with mesothelioma to suffer painful and sometimes life-threatening symptoms. Pleural mesothelioma—the most common type of mesothelioma—makes patients particularly susceptible to illnesses that affect the lungs.
The mesothelioma cancer itself, cancer treatments, poor nutrition, weakened overall physical and mental health, and other compounding factors can combine to cause a person with mesothelioma to be vulnerable to many varied health complications. Mesothelioma patients can suffer devastating effects from conditions like the ones listed below.
- The Flu. The viral infection known as the flu is familiar to most of us. In a healthy body, the flu attacks the respiratory systems and leaves victims feeling under the weather for a few days. But if a person already suffering from mesothelioma catches the flu, the risk is much more serious. It’s unclear if mesothelioma can increase the likelihood of catching the flu, but we do know that the effects of the flu are far worse for those diagnosed with mesothelioma. After being infected with the flu virus, patients may suffer congestive heart failure, heart or brain inflammation, pneumonia, and other complications that can cause serious illness or death.
- Pleural Effusion. A pleural effusion is a condition in which there is fluid build-up in the cavity between the lung and chest wall. While they can be caused by multiple factors, pleural effusions commonly accompany mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. About 90% of pleural mesothelioma patients experience pleural effusion. When fluid build-up becomes severe, the lungs are compressed and cannot move freely as they normally would. This leaves the patient feeling as though they are gasping for breath. Many pleural mesothelioma treatments aim to ease pain, prevent infection of the fluid, and mitigate the effects of pleural effusion.
- Pneumonitis. The term “pneumonitis” denotes an inflammation of the lungs, and this condition is frequently associated with mesothelioma patients. Because therapies (like radiation) used to treat mesothelioma can trigger pneumonitis, doctors and patients need to take care to guard against its potentially harmful symptoms—including dry cough, shortness of breath, lowered oxygen levels, weakness, and fatigue.
- Asthma. A mesothelioma patient who also suffers from asthma may experience worsened symptoms of the cancer. Because there is no cure for asthma, individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma will need to work with a physician to manage asthma symptoms while simultaneously treating the cancer. This is often accomplished by creating a care plan combining medication and therapy. If untreated, asthma can cause a mesothelioma patient to experience more difficulty breathing, more severe coughing, and increased chest pain and discomfort.
- COPD. The term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) describes a prolonged condition affecting a patient’s ability to breathe normally. Bronchitis and emphysema are the two major types of COPD, and both are commonly seen in mesothelioma patients. It’s been shown that exposure to asbestos can lead to the development of COPD, so it’s not unusual for these two asbestos-related illnesses to occur in conjunction with one another. Smoking is also a primary contributing factor to COPD and the worsening of lung health in mesothelioma patients.
- Pneumonia. Pneumonia—an inflammation of the lungs’ air sacs caused by infection—is an illness that is extremely difficult for patients with compromised immune systems to combat. If a mesothelioma patient develops pneumonia, the outcome can be deadly. For that reason, doctors and caregivers often urge patients to take strong preventive measures against this type of infection. If any symptoms of pneumonia develop, such chest pain, fever, weight loss, or increased coughing, it’s important for a mesothelioma patient to contact a physician immediately.
- Infections. In general, any type of infection can worsen the health of those diagnosed with mesothelioma. Viral, bacterial, or fungal infections can be fatal to mesothelioma and other cancer patients. Without a healthy immune system to fight off infection, the body can be violently attacked by the virus or other source of infection. Symptoms of an infection could include fever, skin redness, chills and sweats, swelling, fatigue, weakness, or soreness. For someone diagnosed with mesothelioma, an infection often requires emergency medical care.
While this list of health conditions is not exhaustive, it provides a few examples of the complications that mesothelioma patients, their families and caretakers, and their treating physicians should be aware of and work to prevent. After learning more about what conditions can worsen the effects of mesothelioma, please reach out to our firm with questions. An experienced advocate for victims of asbestos exposure and their families is available for a free case evaluation. We will work to help you understand and make an informed decision regarding your legal options after a mesothelioma diagnosis.