Malignant mesothelioma is a rare, asbestos-related cancer. It forms on the protective tissues covering the lungs, abdomen and heart. Symptoms include coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath. Treatments combining surgery, radiation and chemotherapy improve survival and life expectancy.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
The disease forms on the mesothelium — a protective lining that covers the lungs, abdomen, heart and testes.
Tumors can be benign (noncancerous). But when tumors are cancerous, doctors call the disease malignant mesothelioma. It is often shortened to mesothelioma.
The American Cancer Society records about 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma each year in the U.S.
Leading Expert Dr. David Sugarbaker Explains Mesothelioma
Asbestos remains the primary cause of mesothelioma.
The cancer develops when a person ingests asbestos, and it causes changes to a person’s DNA. Our genes are made of DNA. Some of the genes in our body control how cells grow, multiply and die. Changes in our genes may cause cells to divide out of control and may lead to cancer.
Development of Mesothelioma
- A person inhales or swallows airborne asbestos fibers.
- The asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart.
- The embedded fibers damage the mesothelial cells and cause inflammation.
- Over time, tumors begin to form on the damaged mesothelium.
Common Mesothelioma Symptoms
- Dry coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Respiratory complications
- Pain in the chest or abdomen
- Fever or night sweats
- Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
- Weakness in the muscles
These mesothelioma symptoms usually do not show until tumors have grown and spread. Mesothelioma latency is 20-50 years. That’s how long it takes from initial exposure to accurate diagnosis. For that reason, many people with mesothelioma are in their 60s or 70s.
You should talk to a mesothelioma specialist soon if you have a history of asbestos exposure and experience these symptoms. An early diagnosis may improve your prognosis and life expectancy.
Types of Mesothelioma
Oncologists name each type of mesothelioma by the location in the body where it develops.
The pleural and peritoneal types of mesothelioma are the most common. Pericardial accounts for 1 percent of cases. Another rare type is testicular mesothelioma. It represents less than 1 percent of all mesotheliomas.
Prognosis, symptoms and treatment options vary by type.
- Most common type
- Forms on soft tissue covering the lungs
- Best treated with a multimodal approach
- Less than 20 percent of all cases
- Develops on lining surrounding the abdomen
- Responds best to a combination of surgery and heated chemotherapy
- Second-rarest type
- Forms on soft tissue around the heart
- Best treated with a multimodal approach
Younger patients and women have a better mesothelioma prognosis than older men. People diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma also have a higher chance of survival.
Patients eligible to undergo multimodal therapy, which is a combination of two or more standard-of-care treatments, have a better life expectancy and improved prognosis.
A patient’s mesothelioma cell type also plays a significant role in prognosis and life expectancy. The three types of cells include:
Epithelioid: These cells are the most responsive to treatment, which improves prognosis and life expectancy. They comprise 50 percent of mesothelioma diagnoses.
Sarcomatoid: These cells are the least responsive to treatment. Patients with this cell type have a poorer prognosis and shorter life expectancy. These cells comprise 10 percent of diagnoses.
Biphasic: A combination of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. This type is less responsive to treatment. But prognosis and life expectancy depends on the ratio of both types of cells. This type accounts for 30-40 percent of diagnoses.
How Long Do Mesothelioma Patients Live?
The life expectancy for most patients is about 12 months after diagnosis.
What Factors Affect Prognosis?
Stage and cell type of the cancer are the factors that most affect prognosis. Age, gender and patient’s asbestos exposure history also affect survival outlook.
How Can Patients Improve Their Prognosis?
Eating a nutrient-rich diet, undergoing cancer treatments, including multimodal therapy, and staying healthy can improve prognosis.