Epithelial Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma can be categorized according to a number of different criteria. The first level of categorization generally has to do with where the cancer started (such as the lungs, heart, or abdomen). The next step for most doctors is to "stage" the cancer, or determine how far the disease has progressed. The third step involves examining actual cancer cells.

Mesothelioma cells, the structures responsible for the cancer, are broken down into four major categories: epithelial, sarcomatoid, biphastic, and desoplastic. Biphastic mesothelioma is a "mixed" category, and desoplastic is a variant of sarcomatoid mesothelioma. Of these four types, the most common is epithelial mesothelioma. Epithelial mesothelioma accounts for approximately 50 to 70 percent of all known cases of the disease.

Characteristics of Epithelial Mesothelioma

Epithelial mesothelioma (or epithelioid mesothelioma) develops when the cancerous cells take hold of the pleura (the lining of the lungs), peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity), or pericardium (the lining of the heart). Under a microscope, epithelial mesothelioma cells present a uniform size and shape that is similar to that of healthy epithelial cells.

When examined on a visual level, epithelioid mesothelioma cells look very much like adenocarcinoma cells, another type of cancer cells that are generally associated with the lungs or other major organs and the epithelium. Adenocarcinoma cells may even appear in the pleural membrane of the lungs. It can be smart, then, for those who have been diagnosed with adenocarcinoma to be thoroughly evaluated for Mesothelioma.

Subsets of Epithelial Mesothelioma

Epithelial mesothelioma comes in many different varieties, which may vary from patient to patient. The main types include the following:

  • Signet Ring
  • Single File
  • Adenoid Cystic
  • Glandular
  • Tubulopapillary
  • Histiocytoid
  • Microcystic
  • Macrocystic
  • Glomeruloid
  • Diffuse - NOS
  • Small Cell
  • Deciduoid
  • Pleomorphic
  • In Situ
  • Mucin Positive
  • Well-Differentiated Papillary
  • Gaucher Cell-Like

The names of the different forms of epithelial mesothelioma are generally associated with the shape, size, or formation taken by the cells. Your doctor may work to identify your particular subset of epithelial mesothelioma if the information is necessary for planning effective treatment.

Epithelial Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure

As is true with all forms of mesothelioma, asbestos is considered to be the leading cause of disease. Asbestos fibers generally enter the body via the respiratory system, where they can become lodged in the lungs or other body cavities. The human body does not have an effective mechanism for expelling asbestos fibers, which are very fine. These fibers can remain in place for many years. Overtime, this can lead to inflammation or infection which can result in the development of an asbestos-related illness such as mesothelioma.

The mutated cancerous cells are genetically different from healthy cells and often divide and grow rapidly. As mutated cells increase, the affected membrane thickens and fluid begins to build up. Thickened membranes and increased fluid directly cause the major symptoms of mesothelioma, which may include swelling and difficulty breathing.

One of the hallmarks of mesothelioma is a long latency period. The term "latency period" refers to the amount of time it takes for a disease to take hold after a person has been exposed to a trigger. Documented cases of mesothelioma have appeared anywhere from 10 to 72 years after asbestos exposure. This long latency period makes diagnosing mesothelioma particularly difficult and many patients have trouble connecting their exposure to asbestos with mesothelioma.

For more information about the link between asbestos and mesothelioma and treatment options to combat the disease, offers a complimentary packet to those interested who fill out the packet request form on this page.

Epithelial Mesothelioma Treatment

Treatment for mesothelioma are generally determined by the stage and location of the cancer - not the specific type of cells involved (such as epithelioid or sarcomatoid). This means that a specific diagnosis of epithelial mesothelioma does not mean a certain course of treatment should be followed. Rather, the treatment is likely to be determined by an overall sense of where the cancer is in the body and how advanced it has become.

Common treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Additional non-curative treatments may be used to relieve pressure on the lungs or other organs and diminish symptoms to improve the quality of life.

Epithelial mesothelioma is considered to be more directly treatable than other forms, such as sarcomatoid or biphasic mesothelioma. Generally, epithelial mesothelioma responds better to treatment than other types and epithelial mesothelioma patients may require less aggressive treatment than patients with other types of the cancer.


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