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Mesothelioma

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

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.

 

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Types of Mesothelioma

There are four types of mesothelioma, named for the organs or areas of the body they primarily affect: pleural (lungs), peritoneal (abdomen), pericardial (heart), and testicular.* Mesothelioma can also be characterized by cell type, which includes epithelial, sarcomatoid, and biphasic (a mixture of the other two types). All types of mesothelioma are caused by exposure to asbestos, and available treatment options may vary according to type. *Testicular mesothelioma accounts for less than 1% of all mesothelioma cases.

Types by Locations

Pleural Mesothelioma

75–90%

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

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Peritoneal Mesothelioma

10–30%

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

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Pericardial Mesothelioma

1%

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

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Cell Types

Epithelial

50–70%

The most common mesothelioma cell type, characterized by a uniform shape and size.

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Biphasic

20–40%

Biphasic mesothelioma contains a mixture of epithelial and sarcomatoid cells.

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Sarcomatoid

10–15%

Characterized by long, spindle-shaped cells with no clear organization.

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Mesothelioma Treatment

While there is no cure for mesothelioma, there are a number of treatment options that can help patients survive for longer than they would otherwise. Standard treatments frequently include some mix of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. In addition, newer emerging treatments can sometimes provide hope in cases that otherwise might seem hopeless. Even in cases where mesothelioma is diagnosed at a late stage of the disease, palliative treatments can help ease the pain and suffering associated with the disease.

Treatment Options »

Causes of Mesothelioma

Asbestos is the only known cause 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.

List of Mesothelioma Causes »

Discovery

Signs and Symptoms

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
Diagnosis

Diagnosis

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.

Diagnosis Techniques »
Prognosis

Prognosis

Mesothelioma is an extremely deadly disease. Most people diagnosed with this rare form of cancer live less than five years, and many survivors have significantly less time. The single-most important element in determining a prognosis is the stage of cancer at diagnosis. Other factors can include the tumor location and cell type, as well as the individual’s age and overall health. Available treatment options differ due to the stage at diagnosis, with more aggressive treatments available in earlier stages, while later stages are often limited to palliative care.
Stage Descriptions »

Median Survival Time by Stage

Stage I21 Months
Stage II19 Months
Stage III16 Months
Stage IV12 Months
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Financial Help

Mesothelioma patients can get help to pay for treatment.

After the shock of being diagnosed with cancer, one of the first questions many mesothelioma patients have is how to afford treatment. Because mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, there may be opportunities to receive financial help through worker’s compensation, VA benefits or by filing a legal claim. Since some of these options require legal assistance, it is advisable to consult a lawyer who can provide guidance about what options are available.

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Patient Resources

Find physical, emotional, legal, and financial support.

If you or a loved one has mesothelioma, you can find a wealth of information on this site to help you through the treatment and recovery process. Discover resources for both patients and caregivers such as tips on coping with emotional issues, how to manage pain and symptoms while receiving treatment, and what compensation options may be available to you.

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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