The transitory nature of being a traveling nurse poses a unique set of challenges when it comes to the long-term care many mesothelioma patients need. Because of this, you may not have been there from diagnosis through the entire process or be able to stay with the same patient to the end. However, it’s still important to understand what they’ve gone through and what the rest of their journey will look like in order to care for them now.
With Mesothelioma Awareness Day being September 26th, let’s take a look at a mesothelioma patient’s journey and explore some ways to best care for them.
Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. This naturally occurring mineral was used in many building and manufacturing materials, as well as homes before the 1980s because of its fire resistance and insulation properties. However, when asbestos fibers are inhaled, they lodge themselves in the lining of the lungs and create scarring and inflammation. This can lead to the formation of tumors. These tumors are ultimately what cause the symptoms that push patients to get diagnosed. However, it can take 10-50 years after exposure for noticeable symptoms to appear, leading to a relatively late-stage diagnosis.
A biopsy is the only way to officially confirm that the patient has mesothelioma. This test determines the cell type, stage, and location of the tumor, information that will be used to give a mesothelioma prognosis and build out the treatment plan. There are two cell types, three main locations where the cancer is found, and four stages. A patient’s prognosis will depend on the stage, cell type, and location of the tumor.
Mesothelioma cell types:
- Epithelioid is common, making up 70-80% of cases. Epithelial cells exist naturally in the body as tissue that lines internal organs and vessels. When asbestos becomes lodged in them, they can mutate and become cancerous, causing mesothelioma. The average life expectancy of someone diagnosed with epithelial cells is 23.4 months.
- Meanwhile, sarcomatoid makes up 10-20% of cases. This cell type metastasizes faster to other organs and is more aggressive. The average life expectancy of someone diagnosed with sarcomatoid cells is six months.
- Pleural mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs and makes up 80-90% of cases. The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are similar to other respiratory cancers and illnesses, making it difficult to diagnose early.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the abdomen and makes up 15-20% of cases. This type has a more promising life expectancy because of new progress with treatments.
- Pericardial mesothelioma affects the heart and makes up less than 1% of cases. It has a poor prognosis and often patients rely heavily on palliative treatments.
- Testicular mesothelioma makes up less than 1% of cases and has a much better prognosis and life expectancy than the other three.
- Stage one: the tumor is only in the lining of the affected organ.
- Stage two: the tumor has spread to the affected organ
- Stage three: the tumor has spread past the affected organ to nearby organs and into the chest.
- Stage four: the tumor has spread into distant parts of the body, the lymph nodes, and bones.
Because of how rare this form of lung cancer is, patients often get a second opinion or find someone who specializes in mesothelioma before deciding on a treatment plan, there are three primary treatments: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Many patients choose a multi-modal approach that combines two or three of these.
However, it’s important to note that depending on the cell type and stage, the treatments may be actually trying to eradicate the cancer or provide palliative care to relieve symptoms and improve a patient’s quality of life.
As a nurse, there are two major things to keep at the front of your mind when caring for a patient with mesothelioma.
- Prioritize their emotional health. Pain and weight of a prognosis is an exhausting load to bear. Take some time to make a human connection and encourage them.
- Include their family. Like with any other illness, a patient’s support system is crucial to the healing process. Help those around your patient to understand the diagnosis and share advice on how they can best support their loved one.
Caring for patients with mesothelioma can be draining because of how common a poor prognosis is. However, a nurse can make all the difference in their life by understanding the journey, advocating for them, and supporting them through the hardest parts.
We hope you found this information and tips on caring for a patient with mesothelioma helpful. Have you worked with mesothelioma patients? Do you have any advice or stories you would like to share? Comment them below.