Mesothelioma Types

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure. Four main forms of mesothelioma exist with each affecting a separate part of the body: pleural, peritoneal, pericardial, and testicular mesothelioma. Each form is differentiated by the point in the body where the cancer originates - but all are tied together by the fact that the cancer occurs in that organ's mesothelial cells (which form the protective membranes that surround each organ).

Many organs in the body are surrounded by mesothelial membranes, comprised of mesothelial cells. The mesothelial membrane is a protective covering made of two distinct layers: the parietal and visceral layers. Visceral layers cover actual organs (such as the lungs or heart) while parietal layers are outer layers that generally cover large areas (such as the entire chest or abdominal cavity). Mesothelioma occurs in mesothelial cells as a direct result of asbestos exposure when the toxic fibers become trapped between these protective cells. Asbestos fibers cause swelling, fluid retention, and cancerous cell growth.

Pleural Mesothelioma

The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma which affects the lining of the lungs, known as the pleura. Pleural mesothelioma originates in the lungs. When mesothelioma is present, the pleural membrane thickens as a result of rapidly dividing cancerous cells. Fluid also builds up between layers of the membrane. Many pleural mesothelioma patients experience symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, a persistent cough and difficulty swallowing. These symptoms resemble other more common illnesses which can make diagnosis difficult.

Pleural mesothelioma is generally diagnosed via imaging technologies, such as CT scans, MRIs, and chest x-rays. Tissue and fluid from the lungs may also be tested for cancerous cells. Pleural mesothelioma treatment (generally in the form of surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation) depends largely on the stage at which the disease is diagnosed. Doctors use information from imaging scans and biopsies to determine the stage of the disease - and illnesses diagnosed in early developmental stages often respond more positively to treatment.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

The second most common form of mesothelioma is peritoneal mesothelioma which occurs in the lining of the abdominal cavity, known as the peritoneum. Peritoneal mesothelioma, then, is present in the abdomen rather than the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma causes the peritoneal membranes to thicken and fluid also builds up in the area. The effect of this fluid build-up is generally decreased organ function. Symptoms can include weight loss, nausea, vomiting, a swollen abdomen and constipation or diarrhea.

The diagnostic process for peritoneal mesothelioma is similar to that of pleural mesothelioma: doctors perform various imaging tests to examine the patient and a biopsy often follows.

Pericardial Mesothelioma

A third type of mesothelioma is pericardial mesothelioma which occurs in the pericardium, the membrane that surrounds the heart. Pericardial mesothelioma causes fluid build-up between layers of the pericardium, leading to chest pain, difficulty breathing, and an irregular heartbeat. In most cases, pericardial mesothelioma is discovered and diagnosed fairly late but patients may respond to various treatment options such as chemotherapy or radiation.

Testicular Mesothelioma

A fourth form of mesothelioma is testicular mesothelioma, which accounts for less than 100 reported cases of the cancer. Testicular mesothelioma affects the tunica vaginalis, the membrane that surrounds the testicles. Testicular mesothelioma is generally diagnosed and discovered after the patient has noticed testicular lumps or is receiving treatment for an unrelated condition in that area, such as a hernia. It can also be discovered after peritoneal mesothelioma spreads to the area.

If the testicular mesothelioma is the primary incarnation of the disease, it may be treatable in some situations by removal of the testicle. If the cancer is secondary to another form of mesothelioma, treatment recommendations may differ.

Mesothelioma Treatment

Every form of mesothelioma is different - just as every patient is different. No two diseases will respond in the same way to treatment, and what works for one patient may not work in the same manner for another. If you have received a mesothelioma diagnosis your doctor will work with you to discuss available options. Treatments may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation as well as alternative and experimental treatments. Your doctor's recommendations will depend on the specifics of your disease and your general health.

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