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Common Types of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare and dangerous cancer that assaults the protective tissue around the lungs, heart and stomach areas. The disease starts when victims unintentionally breathe in asbestos fibers. These fibers lodge in the body and form cancerous tumors over time.

There are several ways this rare type of cancer is classified -- by location, cell type and tumors. All types of asbestos cancer are known to be aggressive and difficult to treat because the disease is not usually diagnosed until the later stages. Typically, patients are exposed to asbestos between 10 and 50 years before the first symptoms emerge.

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Of all the ways to classify the disease, the most common way is based on the primary area where the disease started. Pleural mesothelioma starts in the lung area, peritoneal in the abdomen and pericardial near the heart.

  • Pleural Mesothelioma - Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of asbestos cancer, accounting for up to 2,000 cases a year. This type of malignancy injures the pleura, which is the thin membrane that surrounds and lubricates the chest wall and the lungs. Often, it takes a decade or longer for the first changes in the cells to appear to indicate pleural asbestos damage and up to five decades for the first symptoms to appear. The first signs of this disease are decreased lung functions including shortness of breath and the inability to take deep breaths without pain. Other common symptoms are an ongoing and persistent cough, chest pains and unexplained fever. In the early stages, this disease is highly treatable with treatments that include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma - This begins in the abdominal area and the layer of mesothelium called the peritoneum. Researchers think the asbestos travels to the stomach area either through the lymph nodes or the gastrointestinal system. This is considered a rare form of cancer, with about 250 cases a year. The first symptoms of this type of cancer include severe abdominal pains, bowel problems and a form of swelling called ascites. The preferred method of treatment primarily includes palliative measures such as tumor debulking and chemotherapy. This is because the disease is typically diagnosed at the later stages, when fewer curative treatments are available.
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma - This type of asbestos cancer attacks the lining that surrounds the heart, accounting for about 10 percent of overall mesothelioma cases a year. The first signs of this disease are similar to heart conditions, including heart palpitations, irregular heart beat and chest pains. In most cases, this form of cancer is treated with palliative measures only, meaning the treatments are focused on relieving pain. Many doctors are reluctant to treat the area so close to the heart for fear of injury. That’s why it’s crucial to have a mesothelioma specialist who is skilled in pericardial mesothelioma treatment.

Rare Forms of Mesothelioma Cancer

Of all the types of asbestos-related diseases, testicular mesothelioma is considered the most rare, with fewer than 100 cases in the medical journals. This cancer develops in the lining that surrounds the male reproductive organs. Because the disease is so rare, little research has been done. Researchers assume that the asbestos that causes testicular injury travels through the lymphatic system. Treatment includes surgery to remove the injured testicle, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.


Brigham and Women’s Hospital. International Mesothelioma Program. Retrieved from http://www.brighamandwomens.org/Departments_and_Services/surgery/services/thoracicsurgery/services/mesothelioma/default.aspx

Oxford Journals Annals of Oncology. “Current treatment options and biology of peritoneal mesothelioma: meeting summary of the first NIH peritoneal mesothelioma conference.” Retrieved from http://annonc.oxfordjournals.org/content/17/11/1615.full