Malignant mesothelioma occurs most often in people who worked around asbestos — typically, decades earlier. Research has identified other causes too.
- What is mesothelioma?
- Types of mesothelioma
- What causes mesothelioma?
- Next steps
What is mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in the tissue (mesothelium) that surrounds organs and makes special fluid that allows the organs to move.
It occurs most often in:
- The lining of the chest and around the lungs (pleura)
- The lining of the abdomen (peritoneum)
Less commonly, it occurs in:
- The lining around the heart (pericardium)
- The lining of the testicles (tunica vaginalis)
About 75 percent of malignant mesotheliomas begin in the chest and another 10 to 20 percent begin in the abdomen.
Types of mesothelioma
There are three main types of malignant mesothelioma. The most common, and most easily treated, is the epithelioid type. The other two types are called sarcomatoid and mixed/biphasic.
Symptoms of mesothelioma
The most common malignant mesothelioma symptoms are:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Other less frequent symptoms include:
- Trouble swallowing
- Weight loss
Symptoms of malignant mesothelioma in the abdomen can include:
- Pain or swelling
- Weight loss
The same symptoms can also be caused by other conditions. See your doctor if you have any symptoms that concern you.
Your doctor will start by reviewing your medical history, asking about your symptoms and examining you. Next, you may need imaging tests, such as an X-ray or a computed tomography (CT) scan of your chest or abdomen.
To confirm your diagnosis, you will need a biopsy, which means removing tumor cells with a needle or by surgery and examining the cells under a microscope. A biopsy also gives your team information about the subtype of your disease, which helps them select the best treatment for you.
Stages of mesothelioma
If your doctor finds malignant mesothelioma, you will have more tests to learn the extent of the cancer and to find out if the cancer cells have spread (metastasized) to other parts of your body.
This process is called staging. It is important to know the stage of your disease in order to decide on the best treatment for you, such as whether to do surgery.
There are many ways to determine the stage. Many treatment centers, including SCCA, use the TNM system, which considers features of your tumor and whether cancer has spread to your lymph nodes or other parts of your body.
What causes mesothelioma?
Most people with malignant mesothelioma have worked around asbestos. It may take decades after asbestos exposure for a tumor to develop and then for symptoms to appear.
Many people have thought of mesothelioma as a passing phenomenon that will disappear along with the use of asbestos. However, even though asbestos use has decreased dramatically in United States since the 1970s, many people who were exposed decades ago remain at risk. Asbestos is also still used in other countries around the world.
More recently, research has identified other causes of mesothelioma, including radiation therapy to the chest for another cancer or exposure to a mineral called erionite.
Some forms of mesothelioma may be inherited. Genetic tests can tell doctors whether your disease is related to a genetic predisposition. Testing could help provide information to other family members about their risk.
Smoking is not a cause of mesothelioma.
Men are three to five times more likely to get the disease than women are. Most are diagnosed in their 70s.
- Request an appointment to see an SCCA mesothelioma expert.
- Learn about mesothelioma treatment at SCCA.
- Find resources and support for new SCCA patients.
The American Cancer Society www.cancer.org
A nation-wide, community based health organization.
National Cancer Institute www.cancer.gov
The Federal Government's principal agency for cancer research and training.
The Alliance for Lung Cancer Advocacy, Support, and Education www.mesolung.com/index.html
A non-profit organization dedicated to helping those with lung cancer. Although mesothelioma is not a cancer of the lungs, ALCASE receives requests to provide information, resources, and support to those with mesothelioma, and this website was created to provide that information.
The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation www.marf.org
The Meso Foundation is the national non-profit dedicated to ending the suffering caused by mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Cancer Center www.Asbestos.com
The Mesothelioma Cancer Center is committed to providing the latest, up-to-date information to our visitors in hopes of spreading awareness about the dangers of asbestos and the diseases that result from exposure to this toxic mineral.
Mesothelioma Group www.mesotheliomagroup.com
A mesothelioma support community providing education and support services for patients and families facing mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Help www.mesotheliomahelp.org
MesotheliomaHelp.org is a resource for those affected by asbestos-related diseases and their caregivers.
Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center www.maacenter.org
Information and support for mesothelioma patients.