Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen.

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Mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused primarily by the inhalation of asbestos fibers, attacks the mesothelium, a protective, two-layered membrane that covers the internal organs of the body including the lungs, heart, and abdominal organs.

Mesothelioma takes anywhere from 20 to 50 years to develop, which is why it’s more commonly diagnosed in older individuals. This deadly disease most often affects men between the ages of 50 and 70 who were employed in an asbestos-laden environment before asbesto regulations were imposed in the late 1970s. Occupations most associated with mesothelioma are shipyard workers, electricians, plumbers, construction industry workers, pipefitters, boilermakers, and anyone subject to heavy exposure to dangerous airborne asbestos fibers.

Though still significantly rarer than other cancers, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the United States. Some other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, report a much higher incidence of the disease.


Types of Mesothelioma

Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma, the most common type, develops in the lining of the lungs.

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Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the peritoneum, the lining of the abdomen.

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Pericardial Mesothelioma

The rarest major form of the disease affects the pericardium, the lining of the heart.

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Causes of Mesothelioma

The only conclusive cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a fibrous mineral used in a variety of industrial products throughout the 20th century, and in some cases still today. Asbestos fibers are highly friable, meaning they can become airborne easily if disturbed. Once inhaled, the fibers lodge themselves in a person’s mesothelial tissue, causing inflammation that eventually turns to tumors. While not directly a cause of mesothelioma, smoking also increases a person’s chances of developing the disease.

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Signs and Symptoms

Mesothelioma generally doesn’t start showing symptoms until the cancer is in its advanced stages. Early symptoms may be easily confused with more common, less dangerous illnesses, compounding the difficulty of diagnosis. As the tumors spread, they can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort. Treatments in the later stages of the disease tend to focus on easing pain and making the patient as comfortable as possible.

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Common Symptoms

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Fluid in the chest, lungs, or abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Husky voice
  • Difficulty swallowing


Because of a long latency period and lack of symptoms in its early stages, most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the advanced stages of the disease. Typically, symptoms like chronic coughing and chest pain will bring a patient to the doctor. A series of tests, including X-rays, CT scans, MRI, and biopsy, will be administered if the doctor suspects mesothelioma. Research into genetic markers and other early warning signs is ongoing, giving hope that earlier diagnoses may be possible in the future.

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Mesothelioma Treatment

Mesothelioma treatment usually involves some combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Patient Resources

Finding physical, emotional, legal, and financial support is an important part of treating and recovering from mesothelioma.

Family & Caregivers

Caring for a loved one with mesothelioma can be stressful and difficult. Resources like support groups and counselling can make things easier.

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Patient Support

Find information and resources to help you manage pain, symptoms while maintaining your mental health, and a sense of normalcy.

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Legal & Financial Assistance

An experienced mesothelioma attorney can explain your legal rights with respect to compensation and help you in this difficult time.

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