Researchers in Italy say malignant mesothelioma and COVID-19 present patients with similar psychological challenges. In both cases, group therapy may help.
Malignant pleural mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the lung lining. COVID-19 is the respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV2 virus. The two illnesses may not seem to have much in common.
But psychology researchers at the University of Turin say there are similarities between mesothelioma and COVID-19. They say understanding how mesothelioma affects patients psychologically could help providers support people with COVID-19.
Coping with Pleural Mesothelioma and COVID-19
Pleural mesothelioma is usually the result of asbestos exposure. Most people who receive a mesothelioma diagnosis either worked with asbestos or lived near it. Many of them had no idea of the risk until it was too late.
Asbestos fibers are invisible. Once they are in the body, there is no way to get them out. Even if a person knows they were exposed, there is nothing to do but wait and hope. There is no cure for mesothelioma and it is often fatal.
All of these facts can make it hard to cope with mesothelioma. Previous studies show patients often feel resentful, guilty, hopeless, stressed, and frightened. Some patients experience denial. Others lash out. Still others become emotionally numb.
These are the same emotions that may come up for people exposed to COVID-19.
Learning From Mesothelioma Patients
Mesothelioma and COVID-19 are very different illnesses. But the Italian study suggests that doctors treating COVID-19 could learn from the experiences of mesothelioma patients.
Mesothelioma and COVID-19 are both caused by things that are airborne and unseen. People can encounter either one at work. Depending on how they were exposed, people may feel guilty or regretful about their exposure. As with mesothelioma, there are many unknowns with COVID-19. There is also no drug that cures it. Some exposed people never get sick. Others have died.
“In both diseases, there is a feeling of being exposed through aerial contagion to an ‘invisible killer’ without boundaries that can strike even the strongest individuals,” writes study author Antonella Granieri. “In both cases, affected persons can experience personality dysfunction, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic symptoms.”
The Italian researchers say a type of group therapy called Brief Psychoanalytic Group therapy can help people with mesothelioma and COVID-19.
“We believe that in both diseases, an integrated multidimensional intervention offered by hospitals and other public health services is the most effective approach to alleviating patients’ and caregivers’ psychological distress,” writes Dr. Granieri.
The study also recommends a surveillance system that includes assessing occupational risk factors for COVID-19.
Granieri, A, et al, “SARS-CoV-2 and Asbestos Exposure: Can Our Experience With Mesothelioma Patients Help Us Understand the Psychological Consequences of COVID-19 and Develop Interventions?”, December 22, 2020, Frontiers in Psychology, eCollection, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.584320/full