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What Is Mesothelioma Cancer?

Mesothelioma cancer occurs when malignant cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective membrane that covers most of the body’s internal organs. The malignant cells become abnormal and divide without control, damaging nearby tissues and organs. People who have worked on jobs where asbestos particles have been inhaled seem to develop mesothelioma the most.


Depending on where it’s located in the body, the mesothelium has different names. Most cases of mesothelioma cancer begin in the pleura or peritoneum.

  • Peritoneum – tissue that covers most of the organs in the abdominal cavity
  • Pleura – a membrane that surrounds the lungs and lines the wall of the chest cavity
  • Pericardium – protects the heart
  • Tunica Vaginalis Testis – surrounds the male internal reproductive organs
  • Tunica Serosa Uteri – surrounds the female internal reproductive organs

Mesothelioma is still considered a rare form of cancer, occurring more often in men than in women. Risk does increase with age but it can appear in men or women at any age.


Risk Factors of Mesothelioma

Working with asbestos is the major risk factor for mesothelioma. Even though mesothelioma has been reported in individuals who have not had any known exposure, work-related asbestos exposure reports to be in about 70-80% of all cases.

The risk of asbestos-related diseases increases with heavier and longer exposure time. However, not all heavily exposed workers will develop asbestos-related diseases.

Family members living with asbestos workers can have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma and other related diseases. This risk may result from exposure to asbestos dust brought into the home from the clothing and hair of the asbestos workers. That is why asbestos workers are usually required to shower and change their clothing before leaving the workplace.


Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear until 30-50 years after asbestos exposure.

  • Pleural mesothelioma – shortness of breath and pain in the chest
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma – weight loss, abdominal pain and swelling due to fluid buildup in the abdomen, bowel obstruction, blood clotting abnormalities, anemia, and fever

These symptoms may be caused by mesothelioma or other, less serious conditions. See your doctor about any of these symptoms to get a proper diagnosis. Diagnosis starts with a medical history review, including any history of asbestos exposure, and is then sometimes followed by a complete physical exam. If mesothelioma is suspected a biopsy (removal of tissue for examination by a pathologist) is given to confirm the diagnosis.


Treatment of Mesothelioma

Treatment largely depends on the location of cancer, the extent of the disease, and the patient’s age and health.

  • Surgery – Most common treatment. Part of the chest or abdomen lining is removed, along with some of the surrounding tissue. A lung may be removed if the diagnosis is pleural mesothelioma.
  • Radiation Therapy – High-energy rays kill cancer cells and shrink the tumors. Radiation therapy affects the cancer cells only in the treated area.
  • Chemotherapy – Intravenous anticancer drugs are used to kill cancer cells throughout the body.


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