Senior citizens make up seventy-five percent of the victims of asbestos exposure who are fighting mesothelioma. The American Cancer Society defines mesothelioma as a cancer that attacks the mesothelial tissue, which makes up the thin protective layer of tissues that surround the heart and lungs. In America, between two and three thousand patients a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, most of whom have worked with asbestos.
The incident rate of mesothelioma in senior citizens is high for a couple of reasons. First, asbestos was banned in the United States during the 1970s, so exposure has decreased significantly for younger generations. Second, asbestos can remain dormant as a carcinogen for more than fifty years, and the cancer itself can develop for over a year before it is discovered, which puts the highest risk age bracket at seventy years and up.
According to Senior Living Magazine the first symptoms of mesothelioma are shortness of breath, hoarseness, chest pain and other less severe complications. Because they begin to appear years after initial exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma is typically diagnosed in its last stages. It is diagnosed by taking a biopsy of the affected tissue and testing it for malignancy. Most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed during the third or fourth stage of the disease.
There is no known cure for mesothelioma. This is because it is exposure-related and, though a single case may be treated and eliminated, recurrence is likely. Also, most cases are not discovered until after the cancer has spread. Because most cases occur in senior citizens, in whom aggressive treatment is risky and ineffective, the goal of treatment is to prolong life, keep the patient comfortable and arrest the disease's development rather than eradicating it completely. According to the Mayo Clinic, the primary methods of treatments for the cancer itself include surgical removal of large tumors, chemotherapy and in some cases radiation. Palliative care, or treatment of the side-effects of the disease and ongoing discomfort, is dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Seniors who are diagnosed with mesothelioma will find that it is necessary for them to slow down. For seniors that are still in good health otherwise, retiring is a good first step. For seniors who have other health complications, or who have already experienced other health complications related to aging, self-care and maintaining the home may be overwhelming. These individuals should look for a retirement home in their area that they would be comfortable moving into and that has medical staff and servicing equipped to handle the demands of dealing with their needs after the mesothelioma diagnosis.
Life expectancy after mesothelioma diagnosis is poor. According to Environment and Ecology, the average life expectancy after diagnosis is 8 to 14 months. Those who have a stage four diagnosis may want to seriously consider palliative care only.
A mesothelioma diagnosis is serious, scary and life changing. Senior citizens facing a terminal diagnosis should take the time to discuss their medical condition with their family, consider their opinions and make final arrangements. They should also seek the care of a medical professional who specializes in asbestos related disease and mesothelioma treatment. Understanding the progression of the disease, their individual situation and their medical options will allow them to make informed decisions about the disease.
Lawrence Reaves is a freelance writer and health advocate who encourages those who receive a mesothelioma diagnosis seek information from one or more reputable mesothelioma attorneys.