Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly cancer of the mesothelial tissue, which is the epithelial lining inside the body cavities.
Mesothelioma is most common in people who have worked with or been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a hazardous heat-resistant fibrous silicate mineral that can be woven into fabrics, and is used in fire-resistant and insulating materials. It is made up of microscopic fibers that can easily become airborne and inhaled. The particles can easily cling to tissues of the lungs and other areas of the respiratory system. Over time, the fibers can cause inflammation, which creates a various number of health problems, including mesothelioma. Other such health issues may include lung cancer and asbestosis.
Generally, mesothelioma develops in one of three specific areas in the following types:
- Pleural mesothelioma (lungs): This is the most common type and is caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma (abdomen): Inhaled asbestos fibers can become trapped in the lining of the abdomen.
- Pericardial mesothelioma (heart): In more rare cases, asbestos fibers can become lodged in the lining around the heart cavity.
Mesothelioma has no known cure and has a poor prognosis. After being exposed to asbestos, mesothelioma symptoms may take anywhere from 20 years to 50 years to appear. Once diagnosed, the disease will be categorized into one of four stages:
- Stage 1: The mesothelioma tumor is located in one area of the body and has not yet spread.
- Stage 2: A larger tumor may have progressed to the lymph nodes or nearby areas of the body.
- Stage 3: Multiple tumors have spread beyond the local area into the lymph nodes and several nearby locations of the body.
- Stage 4: The tumors have spread into multiple areas and throughout the lymphatic system, invading various organs throughout the body.
For a patient with mesothelioma, it is important to consider the stage of the disease, the cell type, and the location of the tumors to better determine a patient’s survival. Also important to a patient’s prognosis is the patient’s general health, age, and whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. Common symptoms of mesothelioma may include:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Fluid buildup in the lungs or abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss