Understanding Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects a thin tissue called the mesothelium that acts as a lining for many of the body’s cavities and internal organs. The lining allows the organs to lie in close proximity to one another and within the cavity without sticking to one another, while at the same time allowing fluid to move through as part of inflammation, tissue repair, coagulation, and other bodily functions. When the mesothelium’s cells are exposed to asbestos, they can suffer genetic damage that leads to mutations and the growth of aggressive malignant tumors. 

Pleural Mesothelioma

Begins in the thoracic cavity. The most common form of mesothelioma, affecting approximately 75% of patients.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Begins in the abdominal cavity. Affects approximately 20% of patients.

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Begins in the cells lining the heart. It is extremely rare.

Mesothelioma Of The Tunica Vaginalis​

Begins in the cell layer covering the testicles. It is extremely rare.

Mesothelioma tumors are further categorized by the type of cells they are made of. These cell types are:

Epithelioid: More than half of all mesothelioma tumors are made up of epithelioid cells. The prognosis for epithelioid mesothelioma is better than that of other cell types.

Sarcomatoid: Between 10% and 20% of mesothelioma tumors are made up of these fibrous types of cells.

Biphasic: Mesothelioma tumors that contain both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells are classified as biphasic. They represent between 20% and 30% of mesothelioma tumors.

Mesothelioma's Long Latency Period

Mesothelioma progresses aggressively once it is diagnosed, but decades go by between being exposed to asbestos and the tumors growing large enough to cause symptoms. This extended period of time is known as a latency period, and in the case of mesothelioma it can last from twenty to sixty years.
Although mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer, the earlier it is detected the more options for treatment are available and the better the patient’s prognosis can be. According to the American Cancer Society, people diagnosed early with malignant pleural mesothelioma between 2010 and 2016 had an 18% five-year survival rate, which is more than 10% better than that of those diagnosed when the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. As a result, those who have a known history of exposure to asbestos are encouraged to undergo regular screenings, even if they are not experiencing symptoms.

Symptoms of malignant mesothelioma

Though malignant mesothelioma is an extremely rare disease, it shares symptoms with many common maladies, and this works against the condition being diagnosed quickly, especially if patients and their physicians are unaware of their history of asbestos exposure. In many instances, patients initially ignore their symptoms, assuming that they will go away and attempting to treat them with over-the-counter remedies. When their symptoms persist and worsen and they finally seek medical attention, patients without a known exposure to asbestos are frequently misdiagnosed with something less benign and more familiar — the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma may be diagnosed as bronchitis or pneumonia, and those of peritoneal mesothelioma may be diagnosed as a stomach bug, or gastroenteritis. Precious time can be wasted treating the wrong disease.

Most physicians have little exposure to malignant mesothelioma, a disease that is so rare that it is only diagnosed in approximately 3,500 patients each year across the United States. Individuals with a known history of exposure to asbestos need to share this valuable information with their medical provider, as doing so will lead to mesothelioma being included in the physician’s differential diagnosis of symptoms.

Symptoms experienced with all forms of malignant mesothelioma:

Unexplained weight loss
Loss of appetite
Blood clots

Symptoms of malignant pleural mesothelioma

Pain in the side of the chest or lower back
Shortness of breath, cough
Trouble Swallowing
Swelling of face and arms

Symptoms of malignant Peritoneal mesothelioma

Pain in the abdomen
Swelling or fluid in the abdomen
Nausea and vomiting

Symptoms of Pericardial malignant mesothelioma

Pain in the chest
Irregular heart rhythm
Heart murmur
Shortness of breath

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