What Is Malignant Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are found in the mesothelium, which is a thin layer of tissue that covers most organs in the body. Mesothelioma most commonly affects the pleura (the thin layer of tissue that lines the chest cavity and covers the lungs) or the peritoneum (the thin layer of tissue that lines the abdomen and covers most of the organs in the abdomen). This article discusses malignant mesothelioma of the pleura.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Being exposed to asbestos can affect the risk of developing malignant mesothelioma. Many people with malignant mesothelioma have worked or lived in places where they inhaled or swallowed asbestos. After being exposed to asbestos, it usually takes a long time for malignant mesothelioma to occur.
Other risk factors for malignant mesothelioma include the following:
  • Living with a person who works near asbestos.
  • Being exposed to a certain virus.

Mesothelioma Research: An Introduction

Doctors and scientists all over the country are conducting mesothelioma research. These studies are designed to answer important questions and to determine whether new approaches are safe and effective. Research on mesothelioma already has led to many advances, and researchers continue to search for more effective methods for dealing with the condition. But controlling mesothelioma remains a challenge. Research scientists continue to search for more effective ways to treat this disease.

Current Areas of Research

In trials with people who have mesothelioma, doctors are studying new drugs, new combinations of chemotherapy, and combinations of chemotherapy and radiation therapy before and after surgery.
Biological therapy is also under investigation. Sometimes referred to as "biologic therapy," this is a treatment that uses the person's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.

Asbestos Exposure and Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Up to 90 percent of malignant mesothelioma cases are related toasbestos exposure. The risk for developingmesothelioma in those with heavy asbestos exposure is 7 to 10 percent. However, symptoms may not appear until 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos.

Mesothelioma Symptoms: Final Thoughts

The possible symptoms of mesothelioma described in this article are not sure signs of the disease. Other more common, less serious conditions can cause similar symptoms. If you are experiencing any possible mesothelioma symptoms, visit your healthcare provider so that the problem can be diagnosed and treated.

Mesothelioma Signs and Symptoms: An Overview

Mesothelioma is a benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous) tumor that begins within the mesothelium, a protective lining surrounding most of the organs in the body. Most mesotheliomas begin within the pleura (the membrane that surrounds the lungs and lines the wall of the chest cavity) or the peritoneum (the mesothelial tissue that covers most of the organs in the abdominal cavity). Mesothelioma symptoms will vary, depending on where the tumor is located.

Pleural Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms are usually due to an accumulation of fluid in the pleura. These symptoms often include:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the chest or under the ribcage.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis (Cont.)

A biopsy is needed to confirm amesothelioma diagnosis. In a biopsy, a surgeon or a medical oncologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer) removes a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. A biopsy may be performed in different ways, depending on where the abnormal area is located.
If the cancer is in the chest, the doctor may perform a thoracoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor makes a small cut through the chest wall and puts a thin, lighted tube called a thoracoscope into the chest between two ribs. Thoracoscopy allows the doctor to look inside the chest and obtain tissue samples.
If the cancer is in the abdomen, the doctor may perform a peritoneoscopy. To obtain tissue for examination, the doctor makes a small opening in the abdomen and inserts a special instrument called a peritoneoscope into the abdominal cavity.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis: An Overview

Mesothelioma Diagnosis: An Overview

Making a mesothelioma diagnosis is often difficult because mesothelioma symptoms are similar to those of a number of other conditions.

In order to make a diagnosis of mesothelioma, the healthcare provider will begin with a review of the patient's medical history, including any history of asbestos exposure. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination to look for signs or symptoms of mesothelioma. The doctor may also order some preliminary tests to rule out other, more common conditions. These tests can include x-rays of the chest or abdomen and lung function tests.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for malignant pleural mesothelioma may include:
  • Surgery .
  • Radiation therapy .
  • Chemotherapy .

Key Facts on Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma

The following is a summary of key points to keep in mind about malignant pleural mesothelioma:

  • Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells form in the lining of the chest 
  • Being exposed to asbestos can affect the risk of developing this disease .
  • Possible signs include shortness of breath and pain under the ribcage .
  • Tests that examine the inside of the chest are used to find and diagnose malignant pleural mesothelioma .
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options .