Types of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer affecting the mesothelium, which covers and protects most internal organs of the body. The mesothelial tissue covering the lungs and the chest cavity is called the pleura. The tissue covering the organs in the abdominal cavity is the peritoneum. Around the heart, the mesothelial tissue is known as the pericardium. The pleura, peritoneum and pericardium are the most common attack points for mesothelioma.

When mesothelioma develops in the pleura (pleural mesothelioma), the delicate lining thickens and fluid may collect between the two layers of the pleura. Peritoneal mesothelioma causes thickening of the abdominal lining and a collection of fluid in the stomach. Pericardial mesothelioma, which is less common, can be extremely aggressive and cause severe chest pain, shortness of breath, and a chronic cough.

The earlier the diagnosis, the better a patient’s long-term prospects.

Mesothelioma cancer cells

In addition to varying by location, mesothelioma tumors differ according to the type of cancer cell involved. Three primary types of malignant mesothelioma cells comprise the majority of mesothelioma cases: epithelioid (the most common, representing 50-70 percent of all mesothelioma cases), sarcomatoid (the least common but most dangerous), and mixed/biphasic (a combination of epitheliod and sarcomatoid). Treatment options depend in part on the nature of the mesothelioma tumors.

Benign vs. Malignant

Mesothelioma may be either benign and malignant. Benign mesothelioma involves non-cancerous tumors that do not spread to other organs of the body and is more treatable than the malignant form, but may be a precursor to other asbestos-related disease. Malignant mesothelioma is cancerous and can spread throughout the body. Many health providers use the terms “malignant mesothelioma” and “mesothelioma” interchangeably. The earlier the diagnosis, the better a patient’s long-term prospects.

Symptoms

Symptoms of mesothelioma depend on the type. Unfortunately, these symptoms are also common in other illnesses, making mesothelioma difficult to diagnose. If you have any history of asbestos exposure and are experiencing symptoms associated with mesothelioma, it is very important that you consult a doctor immediately for an evaluation. The Mesothelioma Help Center can assist you in finding a doctor and can connect you directly with a nurse to ensure you receive high-quality care.

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Pleural

Pleural mesothelioma represents more than 75 percent of all mesothelioma cases, and, like all mesotheliomas, is caused by exposure to asbestos. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they travel to the lungs and become imbedded in the pleura and elsewhere. Though the precise mechanism that triggers the growth of mesothelioma tumors is not known, studies suggest that the asbestos fibers cause inflammation that ultimately causes tumors to develop.

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Peritoneal

Peritoneal mesothelioma represents 15-20 percent of all mesothelioma cases and is the second most common form of the disease. As with all mesotheliomas, the only known cause of the peritoneal variety is exposure to asbestos. Microscopic asbestos fibers are ingested and travel to the peritoneum, where they become lodged. Though the precise mechanism that triggers the growth of mesothelioma tumors is not known, studies suggest that the asbestos fibers cause inflammation that ultimately causes tumors to develop.

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Pericardial

Pericardial mesothelioma affects the protective mesothelial tissue surrounding the heart (the pericardium). The pericardium consists of two layers, an outer layer (the heart sac or theca cordis), and an inner layer (the epicardium). The rarest of the three types of mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma accounts for only an estimated 1-6 percent of all mesothelioma cases. And as with all mesotheliomas, the only known cause of the pericardial variety is exposure to asbestos.