What is Mesothelioma? What is the difference between pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma is a disease in which a cancerous tumor grows on the mesothelium – the sac lining the internal body cavities. The specific type of mesothelioma is named for the tissue where the cancer started. Pleural mesothelioma starts in the chest, in the pleura that surrounds the lungs (outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall). It makes up about 70% of mesothelioma cases. Peritoneal mesothelioma starts in the lining of the abdominal cavity.
Although sometimes referred to as “asbestos lung cancer”, mesothelioma is not the same as lung cancer. Lung cancers occur inside the lung itself; mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the lung. Mesothelioma is rare, striking fewer than 3000 Americans per year.
What happens inside the body?
The cancerous cells clump together in a malignant tumor. As it grows, the tumor pushes against and into other organs and healthy tissue, causing symptoms. Because the mesothelium is a flat thin lining, the mesothelioma tumor often takes a diffuse shape.
In its advanced stage the cancer metastasizes through the lymph system and spreads to other parts of the body. It is still referred to as mesothelioma because it started in the mesothelium.
What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
Our mesothelioma symptoms page goes into detail about the signs of this cancer. It is important to seek professional medical advice when trying to diagnose for mesothelioma because the symptoms can be confused with symptoms of other diseases.
Major symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Shortness of breath caused by expanding pleural effusion
- Persistent dry cough
- Chest pain
Major symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include:
- Ascites (fluid in the abdomen)
- Swelling or lumps in the abdomen
- Abdominal pain
Some patients experience few of the visible symptoms. Formal diagnostic procedures are needed to determine if the cancer is present.
How do you get malignant mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos, once regarded as a miracle mineral, was popular due its lightweight but tough characteristics as well as for its heat-resistant properties. This naturally occurring mineral was used in many commercial and consumer products, from construction materials such as cement, roofing shingles and insulation, to consumer and industrial applications such as hair dryers, automobile brake pads and pipe insulation.
Most people with malignant mesothelioma worked on jobs where they breathed asbestos. Others were exposed to asbestos in a household environment, often without knowing it.
How much exposure does it take to get the disease? What is the latency period?
Very little exposure can result in mesothelioma. Sometimes people who worked with asbestos for as little as one or two months get mesothelioma. The “latency period” refers to the time between asbestos exposure and diagnosis of the disease. For mesothelioma, the latency period can be decades long, and people exposed in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s are now being diagnosed.
How do doctors treat malignant mesothelioma?
Each patient has an individualized treatment plan which takes into account the type and stage of the cancer as well as the patient’s overall health. Traditional mesothelioma treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of these. Contact us at 1-877-367-6376 if you want to talk about reviewing treatment options.
Is there any promising research or are there promising new drugs for mesothelioma?
Scientists and doctors are conducting research at cancer centers all over the United States. Researchers are continually developing new and more effective drugs as well as new surgical and radiotherapy treatment techniques. In the past few years, there have been several major advances in the management of mesothelioma, including more accurate staging, improvements in surgical techniques and postoperative care, new chemotherapy regimens, and new radiotherapy techniques such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy. Some of this research is being conducted through clinical trials on mesothelioma patients, for which you may be eligible. Please call us if you need additional information on current trials.
What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to asbestos but don’t have mesothelioma?
You probably will not get this rare disease, but you should remain vigilant and get regular check-ups. Let your doctor know about your asbestos exposure.
I was exposed to asbestos when I was in the military. Could that be how I got mesothelioma?
The armed forces used asbestos extensively in the 20th Century. Mesothelioma has a long latency period and often does not appear until decades after the patient came into contact with asbestos. Veterans from all branches of the service are now developing malignant mesothelioma. We have worked with veterans from all over the country. We can help you find VA resources and medical assistance. Our veterans section goes into more detail or feel free to call us at 1-877-367-6376.
Where can I find information on living with mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma Aid is a good website for resource for families dealing with mesothelioma. It includes advice and referrals to other resources for coping with cancer, care giving, financial challenges, and support groups. Alternatively, contact us here at Mesothelioma Web for help finding resources for dealing with this disease and for getting treatment.
What other resources are available for people with malignant mesothelioma?
Should you need more information or have additional questions, please contact us and we can refer you to sources that can answer your specific question. We can be reached at 1-877-367-6376.
Sources of information on this page:
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health
Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases – Malignant Mesothelioma
Pennsylvania Department of Health – Mesothelioma
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute – Asbestos-Related Lung Diseases
Moffitt Cancer Center – General Information about Malignant Mesothelioma