Malignant mesotheliomais a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lining of the chest or abdomen. These cells are found in the pleura (the thin layer of tissue that lines the chest cavity and covers the lungs) or the peritoneum (the thin layer of tissue that lines the abdomen and covers most of the organs in the abdomen). This summary is about malignant mesothelioma of the pleura.
Being exposed to asbestos can affect the risk of malignant mesothelioma.
Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be at risk.
Many people with malignant mesothelioma have worked or lived in places where they inhaled or swallowed asbestos. After being exposed to asbestos, it usually takes a long time for malignant mesothelioma to form. Other risk factors for malignant mesothelioma include the following:
- Living with a person who works near asbestos.
- Being exposed to a certain virus.
Symptoms and Tests
Possible signs of malignant mesothelioma include shortness of breath and pain under the rib cage.
Sometimes the cancer causes fluid to collect around the lung or in the abdomen. These symptoms may be caused by the fluid or malignant mesothelioma. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following problems:
- Trouble breathing.
- Pain under the rib cage.
- Pain or swelling in the abdomen.
- Lumps in the abdomen.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
Tests that examine the inside of the chest and abdomen are used to detect (find) and diagnose malignant mesothelioma.
Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer. The following tests and procedures may be used:
Physical exam and history : An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits, exposure to asbestos, past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
Chest x-ray : An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of the chest and abdomen, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
Biopsy : The removal of cells or tissues from the pleura or peritoneum so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
- The stage of the cancer.
- The size of the tumor.
- Whether the tumor can be removed completely by surgery.
- The amount of fluid in the chest or abdomen.
- The patient’s age and general health, including lung and heart health.
- The type of mesothelioma cancer cells and how they look under a microscope.
- Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).
Source and Additional Information:
General Information About Malignant Mesothelioma (National Cancer Institute)
For more information:
Go to the Mesothelioma health topic.