What is Mesothelioma Cancer?

By Faith Franz


Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that is diagnosed in approximately 3,000 Americans each year. The cancer is very aggressive and spreads rapidly throughout the body. There are three locations that mesothelioma commonly originates, and these locations are used to classify the cancer into three subtypes:

  • Pleural mesothelioma (develops in the lining of the lungs)
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma (develops in the lining of the stomach)
  • Pericardial mesothelioma (develops in the lining of the heart)

Cases of testicular mesothelioma have also been reported, but these are extremely rare.

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type, making up approximately 75 percent of diagnoses. Peritoneal and pericardial mesotheliomas account for 10-20 percent and 1 percent of diagnoses respectively.

What Causes Mesothelioma Cancer?

Mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. Occupational exposure, in which asbestos is inhaled or ingested at a jobsite such as a power plant, shipyard or auto repair yard, is the most common form of asbestos exposure. Secondhand asbestos exposure and environmental asbestos exposure can also cause a person to inhale the fibers.

Once asbestos has been inhaled or ingested, the fibers can become trapped in the mesothelium triggering inflammation, scarring and other biological changes. For some people, these changes can be cancerous and lead to the development of mesothelioma – an internal process that can sometimes take up to 50 years.

What Happens to Mesothelioma Patients?

Once the disease has developed, mesothelioma patients can expect to develop a number of symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain. These symptoms tend to be mild at first, but worsen over time as the cancer progresses.

Several therapies have been developed to help alleviate these symptoms. Mesothelioma patients are typically treated with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, along with a number of alternative therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture. These treatments may be able to extend a patient’s life expectancy beyond the typical prognosis of one year.

Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care.