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The tissue that lines your lungs, stomach, heart and other organs is called mesothelium. Mesothelioma is cancer of that tissue. It is a rare but serious type of cancer. It usually starts in the lungs, but can also start in the abdomen or other organs. Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles. It can take a long time - 30 to 50 years - between being around asbestos and getting the disease. Treatment includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or all three.

Types of Mesothelioma

Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma represents about 75% of all mesotheliomas. The disease can grow quickly and enlarge the pleural space, causing it to fill with fluid. This fluid leads to the discomfort or pain associated with first detection of the disease. It is thought that pleural mesothelioma is caused by the inhaling of fibrous materials, including asbestos.

Pericardial Mesothelioma

The rarest form of mesothelioma is that which affects the linings of the heart cavity, called the pericardium. Less than 10% of all mesothelioma cases are related to the heart. As in the lung, the rapid growth of the cancerous tumors can cause expansion of the tissue and accumulation of fluid. The fluid can interfere with the functioning of the heart and cause chest pain.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma of the abdomen is called peritoneal mesothelioma. The serous membrane surrounding the abdomen is known as the peritoneum. This disease accounts for approximately 10% to 20% of mesothelioma cases. In addition, a rare form of peritoneal mesothelioma affects the male testicles.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis

  • Mesothelioma Imaging Technologies
  • Diagnostic Biopsy Surgery
  • New Methods for Detection
  • New Blood Tests

Stages of Mesothelioma

The staging commonly used for mesothelioma is the Brigham staging system, and it can be described as follows: -
  • Stage 1 : - occurs when the tumor lies completely within the capsule of the pleura, without swollen lymph nodes (adenopathy).
  • Stage 2 : - has the characteristics of Stage 1, except that the tumor has spread and there is presence of adenopathy. The boundaries of the tumor still allow for a resection (removal of the tumor) without cutting into other organs.
  • Stage 3 : - includes extension of the disease into the chest wall or into the heart, through the diaphragm or peritoneum, or outside the pleura to involve the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4 : - occurs when the cancer has formed in distant organs through metastases.

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What are the main causes of mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is most predominantly caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers that are inhaled through the mouth and nose may eventually become embedded in the lining of the lungs, causing damage and resulting in lung cancer or asbestosis (scar tissue formation in the lungs). It has also been found that swallowing asbestos fibers could contribute to a form of mesothelioma originating in the abdomen called peritoneal mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma generally results from occupational exposure but there are instances of environmental exposure to asbestos that can cause the disease. Oftentimes second hand exposure of a family member to an asbestos workers dirty work clothes can result in that family member developing mesothelioma.

What are the warning signs of mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose because the early signs and symptoms of the disease can be subtle at best. Symptoms are all too frequently ignored or dismissed by people who are inclined to attribute them to common every day ailments. Sometimes patients live with symptoms for up to 6 months before being diagnosed but usually the symptoms are present for two to three months prior to diagnosis.

About 60% of patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma experience lower back pain or side chest pain and there are frequent reports of shortness of breath. Lower numbers of people may experience difficulty swallowing, or have a persistent cough, fever, weight loss or fatigue. Symptoms to also consider are muscle weakness, loss of sensory capability, coughing up blood, facial and arm swelling and hoarseness.

Peritoneal mesothelioma originates in the abdomen and as a result, symptoms often include abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting. In the event that there is a hernia present, fluid build up may occur in the abdomen as well.

Anyone previously exposed to asbestos displaying any of these symptoms should seek medical attention right away.

Mesothelioma Treatment

Mesothelioma treatments have thus far been unable to limit the spread of the deadly cancer. Treatments for mesothelioma are divided into two categories: traditional mesothelioma treatments and new mesothelioma treatments. Traditional mesothelioma treatments are the same as those used to treat most other cancers, and include:
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy (radiotherapy)
Traditional mesothelioma treatments are often used in conjunction with one another in an effort to provide the most thorough and effective care. For example, trimodality therapy combines all three traditional methods of treatment. First, chemotherapy is administered with the aim of slowing the growth of malignant mesothelioma.

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