Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer most often found in the membrane that covers the lungs, the stomach and the heart. The name comes from the fact that the cancer invades the Mesothelium, which is a membrane that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body.
Three types of Mesothelioma are most commonly diagnosed. Pleural Mesothelioma is located in the pleura, which surrounds the lungs. Peritoneal Mesothelioma affects the peritoneum, which covers the stomach. Pericardial Mesothelioma impacts the pericardium, which covers the heart.
Risk Factors for Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is considered a “signature disease” of asbestos exposure and is usually not diagnosed for 10-50 or more years after exposure to asbestos. Smoking does not increase the risk for mesothelioma. Mesothelioma has been identified in workers who directly handled asbestos as well as those working nearby, and also in family members who were exposed to asbestos brought home on work clothes. Increased levels of asbestos have also been identified in schools, homes and buildings where asbestos products were installed. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has concluded that there is no “safe” level of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma occurs in individuals with relatively brief asbestos exposure.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Because mesothelioma is a latent disease, symptoms normally do not appear for 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. The main symptom of pleural
mesothelioma is shortness of breath, weight loss, and chest pain caused by an accumulation of fluid in the pleura. Similarly, in peritoneal mesothelioma buildup of fluid in the abdomen causes pain and weight loss. As the cancer spreads pain occurs in other in other parts of the body. Early diagnosis of mesothelioma can increase treatment options and individuals with known asbestos exposure are encouraged to consult regularly with their doctors and timely report any concerning symptoms.
Diagnosis of Mesothelioma
Because the symptoms associated with mesothelioma are commonly found with other conditions, clinical diagnosis of mesothelioma is not always possible. Treating doctors will normally use x-rays and CT scans to identify abnormalities. In order to conclusively diagnose mesothelioma a biopsy is necessary. The doctors will also interview the patient to determine possible prior asbestos exposure. It is important that the patient provide a detailed work history and include possible asbestos exposure through family members.