About Dr. Fontaine
Jacques Fontaine, M.D., is the director of the Mesothelioma Treatment and Research Center at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.Make an Appointment
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer diagnosed in an estimated 3,000 people in the U.S. annually. It starts typically in the thin membrane surrounding the lungs. Less commonly it may present in the lining of the abdomen or heart.
It is caused almost exclusively by inhalation or ingestion of microscopic asbestos fibers — most often from occupational exposure to the toxic substance.
Early symptoms are vague and often flu-like, mirroring those of less serious illnesses. The latency period between exposure to asbestos and obvious symptoms can be anywhere from 20-40 years, which explains why the typical mesothelioma patient is over 60 years old, and the early warning signs are not unusual. Because mesothelioma is rare, and early symptoms vague, early detection of the cancer is difficult. Specialists urge anyone with past occupational exposure to asbestos should be quick to report any early warning signs and ask for a chest X-ray or CT Scan. Early symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
- Respiratory issues
- Chest pain
- Persistent dry cough
There is no simple, clear path to a mesothelioma diagnosis. Doctors often misdiagnose it early in the process because symptoms are consistent with other, less serious illnesses. The diagnosis often starts with a common chest X-ray that may raise concerns and lead to a variety of additional tests that may eliminate others potential issues. Various imaging scans, such as CT, MRI and PET, could be ordered. A tissue biopsy also will be needed for confirmation. During the diagnostic process, a patient may see a variety of medical professionals, including:
- General practitioners
- Medical oncologists
- Thoracic surgeons
Mesothelioma patients are living longer than ever before. Although there still is no definitive cure, advances in treatments are growing and care is more specialized. There is hope on the horizon for patients who can reach a mesothelioma specialist who knows the intricacies of the disease and the best way to treat it. Seeing a specialist, such as Dr. Jacques Fontaine at the Moffitt Cancer Center, is imperative. The types of treatment will depend on the individual, diagnosis, stage and overall health of the patient.
Most specialty centers now rely on a multi-modality approach. It may include:
- Surgery: There are aggressive surgeries offering a chance of long-term survival. These surgical procedures are available for a small percentage of patients, but only if the disease is in its early stages. A radical pleurectomy and an extrapleural pneumonectomy are life-changing surgeries available at Moffitt. There also are less aggressive, palliative surgical options to help the patient’s breathing and improve the quality of life .
- Chemotherapy: There are chemotherapy combinations today that can shrink tumors, relieve pain and increase survival, but they also can have significant side effects. Side effects depend of the type and the dose of chemotherapy.
- Radiation: This therapy has become more precise in recent years, allowing it to be stronger to shrink tumors and help with breathing problems. It can help with quality of life issues.
- Clinical trials: There are experimental treatments available, too, and many are being done in clinical trials. Immunotherapy such as vaccines are being used with some success throughout the country in various trials.