Pericardial Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that occurs in four main forms: pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma, and testicular mesothelioma. Each type of mesothelioma is characterized by the area of the body in which the disease begins. Pericardial mesothelioma is quite rare and accounts for a very small number of reported cases each year. The incidence of pericardial mesothelioma is so small that no studies have been done specifically about this disease.

The pericardium is the membrane that surrounds the heart that provides protection and support, and it is comprised of mesothelial cells. The pericardium has two main layers: the outer layer, or parietal layer, is part of the membrane that surrounds the chest cavity as a whole, while the inner layer, or visceral layer, lines the heart specifically.

Causes of Pericardial Mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma is triggered when toxic asbestos fibers become lodged between the mesothelial cells of the pericardial membrane. The body does not have an efficient mechanism for expelling asbestos fibers. Asbestos fibers may remain in the body for decades causing cells to mutate overtime. These newly cancerous cells divide more rapidly healthy cells, leading to a thickening of the pericardium. The thickened membrane also causes fluid to build up between the membrane's two layers. The thickened membranes and built-up fluids can put a great deal of pressure on the heart. Malignancies may begin in either layer of the membrane, but are likely to quickly metastasize to the other.

Doctors do not fully understand how asbestos fibers come to lodge in the pericardium. In cases of pleural mesothelioma, the mechanism is quite simple: the subject has breathed in asbestos fibers directly into the lungs. There is no easy explanation, however, for how these fibers wind up in the heart. Some experts hypothesize that the fibers may travel to the heart via the bloodstream, but this has not been proven. More research needs to be done in this area to better understand how asbestos fibers reach the heart.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

The symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma are difficult to pin down. In general, symptoms are caused by pressure on the heart from thickened membranes and fluid build-up. The symptoms demonstrated, however, are very similar to a number of heart afflictions. They include chest pain, fever, difficulty breathing, and heart palpitations or rhythmic irregularities. offers a complimentary packet to patients diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma and their loved ones who wish to learn more about the cancer and living with mesothelioma. Please fill out the packet request form on this page to receive your packet overnight.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Mesothelioma diagnosis is generally difficult as symptoms are typically not present until 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure occurred. A knowledge of asbestos exposure will assist in the diagnostic process but in many cases, exposure happened decades prior, making it hard for patients to make the connection between possible exposure and later disease. Pericardial mesothelioma is particularly difficult to diagnose, in large part because its symptoms are so similar to those of many other afflictions. Many people eventually diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma initially mistake the symptoms for a heart attack.

To diagnose pericardial mesothelioma, doctors rely on a thorough medical history and physical examination. The patient will then typically undergo several imaging tests (such as MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans) to look for abnormalities. Doctors will normally follow imaging tests with a biopsy of tissue or fluid to look for cancerous cells and asbestos fibers.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Treatment

In most cases, pericardial mesothelioma is difficult to treat because a diagnosis often occurs after the disease has progressed. Also, certain difficulties arise when working with the heart. In some cases where the disease is diagnosed early, surgery can be performed to remove tumors. Risks for this surgery are very high, however, due to the difficulty of operating near the heart. Another option may be radiation therapy to reduce the size of the tumors, but the tumors' proximity to the heart and lungs can make radiation a risky option. In the majority of cases, curative treatment is unfortunately not an option. In these situations, doctors will generally offer palliative treatments designed to relieve symptoms and improve the patient's quality of life. These may include removing built-up fluid to relieve pressure on the heart.

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