Malignant mesothelioma is a rare, but aggressive and deadly form of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers the majority of the internal organs (mesothelium). Doctors divide mesothelioma into different types based on what part of the mesothelium is affected. Mesothelioma most often affects the tissue that surrounds the lungs, presenting with symptoms in the chest area and this type is called pleural malignant mesothelioma.
Other types of mesothelioma affect tissue in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), around the heart and around the testicles. The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms are related to this area of the body, that is, abdominal swelling, nausea, vomiting, and bowel obstruction. Even though treatments are available, for many people with mesothelioma, a cure is not possible.
Due to the different types of Mesothelioma, the symptoms of the cancer vary depending on where it occurs. Hence, the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Chest pain under the rib cage;
- Painful coughing;
- Shortness of breath;
- Unusual lumps of tissue under the skin on the chest;
- Unexplained weight loss.
The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include:
- Abdominal pain;
- Abdominal swelling;
- Lumps of tissue in the abdomen;
- Unexplained weight loss.
In general, cancer begins when a series of genetic mutations that occur within a cell, causing the cell to grow and multiply out of control. It is not clear what causes the initial genetic mutations that lead to mesothelioma, though researchers have identified factors that may increase the risk. It is likely that cancers form because of an interaction between many factors, such as inherited conditions, the environment, the health conditions and the lifestyle choices.
Most people with malignant mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they breathed asbestos. Others have been exposed to asbestos in a household environment, often without knowing it.
Factors that may increase the risk of mesothelioma include:
- Personal history of asbestos exposure;
- Living with someone who works with asbestos;
- A monkey virus used in polio vaccines.
As pleural mesothelioma spreads in the chest, it puts pressure on the structures in that area. This can cause complications, such as:
- Difficulty breathing;
- Chest pain;
- Difficulty swallowing;
- Swelling of the neck and face that leads from the upper body to the heart;
- Pain caused by pressure on the nerves and spinal cord;
- Accumulation of fluid in the chest, which can compress the lung nearby and make breathing difficult.
One of the ways of lowering the risk of mesothelioma is to reduce the exposure to asbestos at work and at home.