Is There a Connection Between Mesothelioma and Dementia?
Mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer in the United States, with about 3,000 new cases diagnosed annually.
In comparison, dementia affected an estimated 55 million people worldwide in 2020, with a likelihood that this figure will almost double every 20 years.
Mesothelioma and dementia tend to occur among older adults. Treatment options for mesothelioma can vary depending on the stage of this disease.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, is there a possibility that your disease is connected to dementia?
Will chemotherapy help treat mesothelioma and cause any cognitive issues?
This article discusses the connection between mesothelioma and cognitive impairment or dementia. The write-up explores how chemotherapy can potentially cause cognitive problems.
Correlation of Risks Between Mesothelioma and Cognitive Impairment
Studies haven’t established a definite correlation between mesothelioma and dementia. However, some people with mesothelioma claim to exhibit impaired cognitive function symptoms.
Dementia isn’t a specific disease. Instead, it’s an umbrella term for one’s impaired ability to think, remember, or make decisions to the point that you can’t do many everyday activities.
Mesothelioma symptoms usually include chest or abdominal pains, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, or nausea.
On the other hand, while dementia symptoms can vary among individuals, the usual problems typically affect:
- Reasoning, judgment, and problem solving
- Visual perception other than age-related vision changes
Mesothelioma and dementia appear to have little to no relationship when you compare the symptoms. Scientists still need to conduct more research to make a connection between mesothelioma and dementia based on these symptoms.
Still, one possible correlation scientists can consider is that older people have a higher risk for these diseases.
A primary cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. When asbestos breaks into dust, you can inhale or swallow its fibers that settle in your lungs or stomach. These fibers can irritate these organs and eventually lead to mesothelioma.
Scientists don’t understand how asbestos causes this disease. But on average, mesothelioma can take 20 to 60 years to develop after exposure to this material.
This length of time suggests that mesothelioma is likely to occur among older adults. In fact, the average age of individuals diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma in the chest) is 72.
Dementia also mainly affects older adults, despite the disease not being part of normal aging. In 2014, an estimated five million adults aged 65 and older had dementia. Experts project this figure to increase to close to 14 million in 2060.
Additionally, there’s a possibility that pleural mesothelioma can spread to other body parts, including the brain.
One study analyzing the patterns of malignant pleural mesothelioma in 165 patients showed that 3% of the subjects developed brain metastases.
Brain metastasis is the spread of cancer cells from the original tumor site to the brain. The cancer types likely to cause this disease are melanoma and breast, lung, colon, and kidney cancers.
Symptoms of brain metastases include headache, sometimes accompanied by nausea or vomiting, and mental changes like increasing memory problems.
How Chemotherapy May Be Associated With Cognitive Decline
Depending on the diagnosis, a person with mesothelioma may undergo chemotherapy. This treatment method uses medicines or drugs to treat cancer.
Despite the relative effectiveness of chemotherapy, you can still experience various side effects.
One of these adverse effects is chemo brain, which refers to thinking and memory problems that can happen during and after cancer treatment. Other terms for this condition are chemo fog, cognitive dysfunction, and cancer-related cognitive impairment.
Symptoms of chemo brain include:
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Short-term memory problems
- Being unusually disorganized
- Short attention span
- Having difficulty finding the right word
- Having difficulty learning new skills
- Multitasking difficulties
- Mental fogginess (forgetfulness or lack of mental clarity)
- Taking more time than usual to complete routine tasks
- Having trouble remembering a conversation or recalling words or images
Aside from mesothelioma, other factors that can increase the risk of having memory problems include:
- Brain cancer
- Younger age during cancer diagnosis and treatment
- Increasing age
- Cancer that metastasizes to the brain
- Radiation therapy on the brain
- High radiation or chemotherapy doses
How long and severe the chemo brain symptoms are can differ from person to person. Some cancer survivors can return to work, but others may be unable to do so or will find specific tasks more challenging than usual and take extra time and focus.
Chemo brain can be a debilitating and often frustrating side effect of cancer or its treatment like chemotherapy. Researchers continue to discover and understand the memory changes in people with cancer.
Are you diagnosed with mesothelioma or other types of cancer and having trouble with memory or thinking? Consult your doctor and keep track of your symptoms so your healthcare provider can recommend your next steps.
To know more about mesothelioma or other cancers that can potentially affect your brain, visit the American Cancer Society website at Cancer.org or call 1-800-227-2345.
- Key Statistics About Malignant Mesothelioma
- Numbers of people with dementia
- Mesothelioma: Symptoms & Causes
- About Dementia
- Patterns of metastases in malignant pleural mesothelioma in the modern era: Redefining the spread of an old disease
- Brain Metastases: Symptoms & Causes
- Chemo Brain: Symptoms & Causes