Types of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is an extremely rare disease that affects approximately 10,000 people worldwide. Over 2,500 Americans are diagnosed with this form of cancer annually. Malignant mesothelioma is caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Thousands of people who were exposed to high concentrations of asbestos are now being diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.

Malignant mesothelioma or asbestos cancer can be classified into three main types: pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial mesothelioma. Asbestos exposure may also cause testicular mesothelioma, a lethal form of cancer that affects the tunica vaginalis, a thin membrane of cells that covers and protects the testicles.

Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma accounts for over 75 percent of all diagnosed cases. This aggressive disease attacks the pleura--the membrane that surrounds the lungs. The first changes in the pleura may take decades to develop. Patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma usually present chest pain, wheezing, hoarseness, blood in the sputum, shortness of breath, coughing, and accumulation of fluid in the lungs.

It is a common misconception that pleural mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer. Mesothelioma affects the lining of the chest cavity and not the lungs. This rare disease occurs in those who have been exposed to asbestos for long periods of time. When breathed in, asbestos fibers cause chronic inflammation that eventually leads to cancer and severe breathing disorders. Pleural mesothelioma has a long latency period. Most patients experience the first symptoms of cancer 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

This deadly disease comprises about 30 percent of all mesothelioma cases. Less than 500 people in the United States are diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma each year. This form of cancer begins in the abdominal lining, a thin membrane that surrounds and covers the organs of the abdomen. The latency period for this illness is lower than the pleural form. The first symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma show up 20 to 30 years after the initial exposure to asbestos.

Peritoneal mesothelioma causes changes in bowel habits, nausea and vomiting, increasing abdominal girth, unexplained weight loss, anemia, fatigue, muscle weakness, and ascites. Most patients experience abdominal pain and swelling, fever, loss of appetite, and night sweats. Bowel obstruction may occur in late stages of the disease.

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma is the least common type of asbestos cancer. This disease accounts for less than six percent of all mesothelioma cases. Pericardial mesothelioma affects the membrane of the heart. Most patients with pericardial mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos at the workplace. Those who suffer from this disease may experience heart murmurs, chest pain, night sweats, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, blood clots in the arteries of the lungs, and dyspnea. Palliative treatment is the only option for pericardial mesothelioma patients.

All three types of mesothelioma are caused by exposure to asbestos. If you have worked with products containing asbestos, you may be at risk. Make sure you go to the doctor on a regular basis. Fill in the form on this page to learn more about mesothelioma.