Mesothelioma is a rare, incurable cancer of the mesothelium – the lining around your lungs or other organs. Mesothelioma is one form of cancer whose cause is known: exposure to toxic asbestos. For patients with mesothelioma symptoms, relief from pain is an important part of their treatment and care.
What Are Mesothelioma Symptoms?
If you know that you worked around asbestos, served in the military before the mid 1970s (especially the Navy), or were otherwise exposed to this toxic mineral, it’s important to watch for mesothelioma symptoms. Though your exposure may have happened many years ago and you may have been perfectly healthy since then, it pays to be on your guard. Mesothelioma is a sneaky disease that always appears decades after asbestos exposure.
Some of the symptoms to watch out for include:
- Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath
- Pain in the chest or side
- Spitting up blood
- Fatigue, weakness
- Ongoing fever
- Unexpected weight loss
- Trouble swallowing
- Nerve problems, especially in the face or arm
Any one of these mesothelioma symptoms might be caused by other conditions. Your doctor will probably want to eliminate more common conditions if you are experiencing any of these problems. Let your physician know about your exposure to asbestos, so you can both remain vigilant and catch mesothelioma symptoms early.
Mesothelioma Symptoms and Pain Management
For patients diagnosed with this cancer, one of the most common mesothelioma symptoms is some form of pain. Dealing with pain is exhausting; it’s an extra burden that you don’t need when your body is already overtaxed by fighting off this deadly cancer.
The most common type of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining around the lungs. This form of the disease often comes with pain in the back or chest. Patients may also experience more generalized pain throughout the torso or abdomen.
In addition, mesothelioma tumors can create pressure that causes pain. Mesothelioma treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, which reduce the size of your tumor, can help relieve this pain.
A 2007 study of pain control among cancer patients found that as many as half of all cancer patients weren’t receiving enough medication to completely alleviate their pain. If your mesothelioma symptoms include chronic pain, be sure and let your doctor know what’s working and what isn’t, so you can come up with a treatment regimen that relieves you of the burden of pain.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has created guidelines for physicians treating patients with chronic pain. The guidelines are known as the “analgesic ladder.” WHO suggests that physicians start with the pain medications likely to have the fewest side effects (nonopiods), then move up to opiods and, if needed, a combination of opiod and nonopiod medication.
Management of pain symptoms may be complicated by new restrictions on opiod prescriptions and the reluctance of some physicians to prescribe these highly addictive drugs. For treatment of mesothelioma symptoms, however, the seriousness of the disease should outweigh concerns about the long term potentially addictive effects of medication to treat chronic pain. Pain relief is the highest goal.
Mesothelioma symptoms can include pain caused by a tumor pressing on a nerve, or nerve damage during surgery. Some patients end up with nerve pain at the site of the port used to deliver chemotherapy drugs.
If you’ve ever experienced a pinched nerve or other nerve pain, you know that this mesothelioma symptom can be particularly sharp, the type of pain that takes your breath away. Home remedies for nerve pain include movement and sleep. Exercise, if you are up to it, may help relieve the pressure on your nerve. Good sleep habits, which may mean reducing the amount of coffee you drink or only drinking caffeine in the morning, can also help your body’s healing to kick in.
In the end, patients with mesothelioma symptoms that include nerve pain may find that they need to reach out to their physicians for medicine directed at this type of pain. Anti-seizure medications are sometimes effective for nerve pain.
Side Effects of Chemotherapy and Radiation
Chemotherapy is the most common (and most effective) mesothelioma treatment. Because of this, mesothelioma symptoms after chemotherapy can include stomach aches and muscle pain caused by chemotherapy. The cancer drugs can also sometimes cause site-specific burning pain.
In addition to pain medications, if your pain is severe, your doctor may order a nerve block. This is a targeted injection that blocks certain nerves from transmitting pain signals to the brain. Nerve blocks are not usually long-term pain management solutions, but they can be effective to get you over the hump if you are experiencing severe pain.
If your doctor prescribes radiation as part of your mesothelioma treatment plan (radiation is rarely used by itself to treat mesothelioma symptoms), you may experience pain in the area that receives the radiation. Let your doctor know about this pain so you can determine together whether palliative care is needed.
Your Role in Managing Pain from Mesothelioma Symptoms
You can play an important part in your pain management plan. One common pitfall that can trip up patients with mesothelioma symptoms is neglecting to take pain medication regularly as prescribed. If the medication works, your pain will be greatly reduced or may disappear entirely. Don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. Take your pain medication at the prescribed times, whether you are in pain at that moment or not. That is the best way to remain pain-free.
You may want to seek out a specialist in palliative care. Palliative care focuses on making sure you are as comfortable as possible and that painful mesothelioma symptoms are under control.
Educate yourself about the pain treatments that are available for your mesothelioma symptoms. Make sure you communicate clearly your wishes and preferences. Doctors know what works for most patients; only you know what works for your particular pain symptoms.
For some patients, alternative methods are an effective way to help manage mesothelioma symptoms. Acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, and meditation may have some effect on your pain with few or no side effects. You may want to try different approaches to find what works for you, since individual responses to these treatments can vary.
Whatever your approach, remember that pain is an important mesothelioma symptom and one that should not be ignored. You deserve treatment to manage your pain and keep you as comfortable as possible.