Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma Cancer is Caused by Asbestos

"Malignant mesothelioma" is a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. The name is often shortened to "mesothelioma." The disease attacks the mesothelial cells, which are specialized cells that make up the membranes lining the chest and abdominal cavity. Mesothelium, or the tissue formed by mesothelial cells, helps protect the organs by producing a lubricating fluid that allows the organs to move without irritating nerves.

Malignant mesothelioma frequently involves severe respiratory problems. The virus SV40 may also be a factor in the disease in some people. Mesothelioma is not lung cancer, even though it can affect the lungs. Cigarette-smoking does not cause mesothelioma, although smoking can lead to lung cancer and effect the chances of contracting other asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis.

Common locations where malignant mesothelioma occurs in asbestos-exposed workers are the pleural and peritoneal regions. Pleural mesothelioma is cancer of the pleura, which is the membrane that lines the lungs and the chest cavity. Peritoneal mesothelioma is cancer of the peritoneum, which is the lining of the abdomen. Both involve serosal membranes (delicate membranes composed of connective tissue).

Malignant Mesothelioma: Histology and Photos

For histology purposes, the three common varieties of mesothelioma are epithelioid, sarcomatoid, and mixed/biphasic. Each form of malignant mesothelioma poses similar symptoms and has a fatal outcome.

The photo at left shows an actual human pleural mesothelioma tumor (white rind-looking margins surrounding the dark lung area). The tumor encases the lung as it tracks the pleura, causing pain with breathing and creating compromised lung function. Click on the photo to see an enlarged image.

Peritoneal and Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma may not become apparent until many years after the first exposure to asbestos. Pleural mesothelioma patients usually experience general difficulty in breathing (dyspnea), pain in the chest, or both. Other signs of the disease may include hoarseness, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), or coughing up of blood (hemoptysis). Over half of patients with pleural mesothelioma have pain in the lower back or at the side of the chest. An increase in waist size or abdominal pain may be a symptom of the growth of cancer cells in the abdomen and peritoneal mesothelioma. The physician will use imaging techniques and take fluid or tissue samples to make a mesothelioma diagnosis.