Peritoneal Mesothelioma

The term mesothelioma refers to a rare cancer almost exclusively caused when asbestos fibers infiltrate the mesothelial cells surrounding an organ or area of the body. Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma annually. There are four different forms of mesothelioma: 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. Peritoneal mesothelioma is a relatively rare form of the disease. Peritoneal mesothelioma is more common in men than in women, though there is no known explanation for the distinction.

Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the lining of the abdomen, also known as the peritoneum. It is a membranous layer designed to protect and support the abdomen that is comprised of two smaller layers: the parietal layer and the visceral layer. The visceral layer, or inner layer, surrounds the internal organs. The parietal layer, or outer layer, covers the abdominal cavity.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma stem from the thickening of membranes caused by the rapid division of the mesothelial cells that comprise the peritoneum. As these membranes thicken, they can put pressure on the internal organs and cause fluid build-up. Key symptoms include abdominal pain, weight loss, night sweats, fatigue, anemia, and changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea. In some cases, tumors may be pronounced enough to become visible under the patient's skin.

Additional information about peritoneal mesothelioma, treatment options and cancer centers is available through a comprehensive complimentary packet mailed to those who fill out the packet request form on this page.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Diagnosing peritoneal mesothelioma can be a difficult task. The symptoms of the disease may resemble other illnesses and a key in diagnosing mesothelioma is a clear connection to known asbestos exposure. For many patients, however, asbestos exposure happened long ago and this connection may not surface without a doctor's questioning once mesothelioma is suspected.. The patient was likely unaware of the exposure at the time and is often unaware of the dangers they faced.

Once a doctor suspects peritoneal mesothelioma based on symptoms, the next step is generally an imaging scan such as a CT, PET, or MRI. The goal of these tests is to get a clear picture of the affected area to determine if there are any visible abnormalities. Once doctors have determined the existence and location of any cancerous growths, the doctor will then call for a biopsy. During a biopsy, doctors sample affected tissue and fluid to look for asbestos fibers.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Treatment

Peritoneal mesothelioma is notoriously difficult to treat because many patients are not diagnosed with the disease until it has progressed to later stages of development. Mesothelioma that is diagnosed at an advanced stage is very difficult to treat effectively, which is why a prompt and accurate diagnosis is essential.

Surgery to remove cancerous tumors is sometimes an option. Doctors may choose to use radiation to shrink the tumors before attempting surgery. Another option may be intraperitoneal chemotherapy. In this procedure, chemotherapy drugs are injected directly into the peritoneal membrane in an attempt to eradicate cancerous cells.

Unfortunately, many patients are not good candidates for these treatment options. The patient may be too ill to withstand treatment or the cancer may be too advanced to respond. In these situations, the likely course of treatment is palliative options designed to improve the patient's quality of life and relieve symptoms.

In some rare cases, peritoneal mesothelioma is found to be cystic. In past years, this form was considered to be benign. Today, however, it is recognized that cystic peritoneal mesothelioma can be a precursor to malignancy. Treatments for cystic peritoneal mesothelioma are often quite successful and have a much higher likelihood of recovery than other forms of the disease.

Causes of Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Peritoneal mesothelioma is caused when asbestos fibers become lodged between the mesothelial cells that form the peritoneum. Asbestos fibers are very difficult for the body to remove. The fibers can remain in place for one or two decades - or more. Over this extended period of time, the asbestos fibers cause some cells to mutate into cancerous cells. These cancerous cells then divide and reproduce much more quickly than healthy cells, leading to a thickening of the affected membranes. The cancer may begin in either layer of the peritoneum - but often moves quickly to the other.

Doctors are not in agreement about how asbestos fibers come to be in the peritoneum. In the case of pleural mesothelioma, in which asbestos fibers become lodged in the lungs, the source is clear: the patient has inhaled the asbestos fibers and provided them direct access to the lungs. In the case of peritoneal mesothelioma the formation of the disease is not as clear. Some physicians believe that peritoneal mesothelioma may be prompted by asbestos fibers that have been ingested. Some believe fibers move from the digestive tract into the peritoneum. The other major theory is that asbestos fibers may reach the peritoneum after having been inhaled. It is possible that fibers may travel to the peritoneum via the lymphatic system.

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