What is Mesothelioma and Why is It Dangerous?

Author

Alex Bernstein

· 6 min read
What is Mesothelioma and Why is It Dangerous?

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that forms in the mesothelium, which is the membrane that covers some of the internal organs. While it's most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos, there are several other factors that can increase your risk for developing this deadly disease. Mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose due to its unique symptoms and because it often takes years before any signs or symptoms appear. The three types of mesothelioma include pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma (both located in the chest area) and pericardial mesothelioma (located in the heart area). To protect yourself from developing this disease or passing it on to others via second-hand smoke, follow safe work practices around any type of asbestos products at home or work and make sure your home doesn't contain any trace amounts of asbestos materials."

A diagram showing mesothelioma condition

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. It's not the same as other forms of cancer, such as lung cancer or breast cancer. Instead, it's caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that was once widely used in construction materials and other products because it has excellent insulating properties. The mineral has since been banned in many countries due to its harmful effects on human health (see "What does asbestos look like?").

Now that you know mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos—and not just any kind of asbestos—let's take a look at how this exposure can happen and what you should do if you think your loved one may have been exposed at work or through another source.*

Mesothelioma cancerous cells are found in the mesothelium.

Mesothelioma cancerous cells are found in the mesothelium. The mesothelium is also known as the parietal pleura, which is a thin membrane that covers the lungs and heart, and lines part of the abdominal cavity (also known as peritoneal cavity). It consists of two layers:

  • The outermost layer, or serosa
  • The inner layer or epithelial layer
What is mesothelium

Mesothelioma is most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos.

Mesothelioma is most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used for decades in products such as insulation, construction material and brake pads because of its strength and resistance to heat. The problem with asbestos is that the fibers can be inhaled or ingested if the product containing them is damaged or broken down over time. Once these fibers enter the lungs, they cause inflammation and scarring within 24 hours of contact with tissue, which can later lead to mesothelioma as well as other lung diseases like emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

There are several factors that can increase a person's risk for developing mesothelioma.

There are several factors that can increase a person's risk for developing mesothelioma. Smoking cigarettes and being exposed to asbestos are the most common causes. People whose family members have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer also have a higher chance of developing the disease. Other factors include exposure to radiation, certain chemicals (such as benzene), and viruses linked to a type of cancer called sarcomas.

If you've been exposed to asbestos, it's vital that you monitor your health for any signs or symptoms of mesothelioma.

If you've been exposed to asbestos, it's vital that you monitor your health for any signs or symptoms of mesothelioma. While there are no guaranteed ways to prevent mesothelioma, knowing what to look out for can help you detect early-stage cases and make sure they're treated as soon as possible. In general, the symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure that worsens when coughing up blood, weight loss despite eating normally (or even overeating), night sweats and fevers with no other identifiable cause. If you have any of these symptoms on a regular basis—especially if they worsen over time—you should consult a doctor immediately.

There are three types of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. There are three types:

  • Pleural mesothelioma: The most common type of mesothelioma occurs when cells in the protective lining of your lungs (pleura) become abnormal and multiply. This can cause fluid to build up in your chest cavity, which may make it difficult for you to breathe.
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma: This form of cancer develops in tissues that line your abdominal cavity (peritoneum). It often affects men more than women, and people who have worked with asbestos are more likely to develop it than those who haven’t.
  • Pericardial mesothelioma: This rare tumor forms around the sac surrounding your heart (pericardium), causing fluid buildup in this area and making it hard for blood flow through the heart muscle.

Medical professionals will use several methods to diagnose mesothelioma.

Luckily, there are several different ways to diagnose mesothelioma. The first step is to get a thorough medical history from the patient or family members. Along with this, your doctor will run tests including:

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • PET scan

It is difficult to cure mesothelioma, but there are treatment options.

Treatment for mesothelioma is challenging. There is no cure for the disease, so treatment options focus on extending life and relieving symptoms.

Surgery is the most common treatment option for mesothelioma, but it's only helpful if cancer cells are localized to one area of your body. If you've been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma—that is, tumor cells have spread beyond your lungs and into the lining of your chest cavity—surgery may not be an option because it may be too risky to remove all the cancerous tissue. Surgery usually involves removing as much of the tumor as possible along with some healthy tissue around it (called debulking). This can help relieve pressure on surrounding organs in some cases.

Chemotherapy is used after surgery or when cancer spreads throughout a particular organ or region of the body (called metastatic). Chemotherapy helps slow down or prevent further growth of these tumors by targeting specific cell types involved in their growth:

The best way to protect yourself from developing mesothelioma is to avoid being exposed to asbestos.

The best way to protect yourself from developing mesothelioma is to avoid being exposed to asbestos. Unfortunately, this isn't always possible. For example, if you live in an older home that has asbestos insulation, or if your job involves working with products containing asbestos (like construction or manufacturing), avoiding exposure can be difficult.

In these situations, it's important that you take steps to limit the amount of exposure and wear protective gear when necessary. In workplaces where there may be asbestos present—or even just a possibility of its presence—employers should make sure their employees follow strict safety procedures and use proper equipment when handling potentially hazardous materials.

Conclusion

Mesothelioma is a serious disease, but there are treatment options available. If you've been exposed to asbestos, it's important to monitor your health for any signs or symptoms of mesothelioma.