Malignant mesothelioma is known as the direct result from prolonged exposure, 20 years or more, to asbestos which leads to the cause of this rare cancer of the membranes lining the chest and abdominal cavities. Diagnosis and treatment of this cancer is often difficult. Malignant mesothelioma may occur even many years after exposure has stopped.
Malignant cancer cells are found in the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a membrane that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body. It is composed of two layers of cells. The first layer immediately surrounds the organ; the other forms a sac around it. The mesothelium produces a lubricating fluid that is released between these layers, allowing moving organs like the heart and the lungs to glide easily against adjacent structures.
Cancer of the mesothelium, malignant mesothelioma is a disease in which cells of the mesothelium become abnormal and divide without control or order. They may invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also metastasize or spread from their original site to other parts of the body. Most cases of mesothelioma begin in the pleura or peritoneum.
The number of new cases of this disease have increased in the past 20 years. About 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year. Mesothelioma occurs more often in men than in women and risk increases with age, but this disease can appear in either men or women.
Signs & Symptoms of Malignant Mesothelioma
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the chest
- Pain or swelling in the abdomen
Symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear until 20 or more years after exposure to asbestos. Shortness of breath and pain in the chest due to an accumulation of fluid in the pleura are often symptoms of pleural mesothelioma. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include weight loss and abdominal pain and swelling due to a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. Other symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma may include bowel obstruction, blood clotting abnormalities, anemia, and fever. If the cancer has spread beyond the mesothelium to other parts of the body, symptoms may include pain, trouble swallowing, or swelling of the neck or face.
These symptoms may be caused by mesothelioma or by other, less serious conditions. It is important to see a doctor about any of these symptoms. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis.
Treatment of Malignant Mesothelioma
Treatment for mesothelioma depends on the location of the cancer, the stage of the disease, and the patient’s age and general health. Standard treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Sometimes, these treatments are combined.
- Surgery is a common treatment for mesothelioma. The doctor may remove part of the lining of the chest or abdomen and some of the tissue around it. For cancer of the pleura (pleural mesothelioma), a lung may be removed in an operation called a pneumonectomy. Sometimes part of the diaphragm, the muscle below the lungs that helps with breathing, is also removed.
- Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, involves the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy affects the cancer cells only in the treated area. The radiation may come from a machine (external radiation) or from putting materials that produce radiation through thin plastic tubes into the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy).
- Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Most drugs used to treat mesothelioma are given by injection into a vein (intravenous, or IV). Doctors are also studying the effectiveness of putting chemotherapy directly into the chest or abdomen (intracavitary chemotherapy).
To relieve symptoms and control pain, the doctor may use a needle or a thin tube to drain fluid that has built up in the chest or abdomen. The procedure for removing fluid from the chest is called thoracentesis. Removal of fluid from the abdomen is called paracentesis. Drugs may be given through a tube in the chest to prevent more fluid from accumulating. Radiation therapy and surgery may also be helpful in relieving symptoms.
Intraoperative photodynamic therapy is a new type of treatment that uses special drugs and light to kill cancer cells during surgery. A drug that makes cancer cells more sensitive to light is injected into a vein several days before surgery. During surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible, a special light is used to shine on the pleura. This treatment is being studied for early stages of mesothelioma in the chest.
The National Cancer Institute is sponsoring clinical trial research studies that are designed to find new treatments and better ways to use current treatments. Before any new treatment can be recommended for general use, doctors conduct clinical trials to find out whether the treatment is safe for patients and effective against the disease. Participation in clinical trials is an important treatment option for many patients with mesothelioma. Individuals interested in taking part in a clinical trial should talk with their doctor. Information about clinical trials is available from the.
Cancer Information Service
Toll-free: 1–800–4–CANCER (1–800–422–6237)
TTY (for deaf and hard of hearing callers): 1–800–332–8615
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