Mesothelioma occurs when cancer attacks the mesothelium, which consists of the mesothelial cells that form a protective layer over the body’s cavities and organs. The mesothelium produces fluids that protect the organs and allow for their movement. The lining located in the chest is called the pleura, and the lining of the abdomen is referred to as the peritoneum.
Symptoms of Testicular Mesothelioma
The primary symptom of testicular mesothelioma is often a simple lump, leading to delayed diagnosis and often an advanced stage of the disease. Because the cancer is very aggressive, patients typically do not survive more than 1 year following diagnosis.
Fortunately, testicular mesothelioma is extremely uncommon. However, due to its aggressive nature and the fact that the cancer often reoccurs, metastasis, or spreading to areas such as the lungs, chest, brain, and lymph nodes, is likely. Because of this, the life expectancy of a patient with testicular mesothelioma is typically less than 2 years.
Treating the Disease
Early cases of the cancer can occasionally be treated by surgical removal, with chemotherapy and radiation treatment being used as well. Unfortunately, in later stages, the cancer is completely incurable and the most that can be done is to relieve the discomfort of the patient by means of palliative treatments.
Often, tumors in the testicles are secondary to the ones that originally formed in the peritoneum (the lining in the abdominal cavity). Because the tumors have spread to other areas of the body, treatment becomes more difficult because the primary and secondary tumors must be treated. If the tumor has developed in the testes, the treatment involves the partial, or sometimes total, removal of the affected testicle. This removal is then followed by standard chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Treatment of testicular mesothelioma with chemotherapy involves a patient receiving chemotherapy medications through an IV. These drugs target cancerous cells that divide rapidly, preventing their growth. Radiation therapy is used to kill existing cancerous cells along with stunting their growth by using radiation targeted at the infected area.
Unfortunately, testicular mesothelioma is considered a very aggressive form of mesothelioma. It also tends to recur within a few years, even in cases of surgical removal of the tumor.
Asbestos Exposure and Testicular Mesothelioma
While research is very limited due to the rarity of this type of mesothelioma, researchers have two theories as to the point of origin of testicular mesothelioma. One hypothesis is that it originates in the tunica vaginalis, the membrane where testicular mesothelioma develops. In this membrane, mesothelial cells are present in most of the lining, making mesothelioma cancer cell growth a possibility.
A second area of the testicles that may harbor the origin of testicular mesothelioma is the serosal surface of the tunica. On this surface, firm white-yellow nodules can be found and have the ability to encase the scrotum and cause the tunica vaginalis to thicken. This thickening is caused by abnormal cells dividing and growing rapidly. Once the cells become cancerous, they no longer have the ability to regulate their own cycles; therefore, uncontrolled growth can eventually lead to the formation of tumors.
Since there is no one theory to explain how exposure to asbestos would cause a tumor to develop primarily in the testicles, it is understood that once fibers are inhaled and enter the body, they can easily become lodged in organs, causing inflammation or infections. These issues may result in the development of mesothelioma. Because mesothelial cells are abundant in the tunica vaginalis and these cells are the ones that are attacked by the mesothelioma cancer, testicular mesothelioma—although still a rarity—is a possibility.
Types of Mesothelioma
Of malignant mesotheliomas, the most common is pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the chest and is responsible for approximately 90% of mesothelioma cancers in men. One of the rarest forms of mesothelioma is testicular mesothelioma, accounting for only 0.7% of all cases between 1973 and 1999. Testicular mesothelioma has been known to occur over a wide age range, although most patients are adults over the age of 50. Most of the cancer victims are Caucasians, particularly those who work industrial or construction labor.
Causes of Mesothelioma
The primary factor known to cause malignant mesothelioma is prior asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a type of mineral composed of magnesium-silicate fibers. A popular form of insulation, asbestos was preferred due to its fire resistance and strength. When research showed that asbestos posed health concerns, the popularity of the mineral began to decrease. However, although it is not considered a popular constructive material today, it is still present in many buildings and homes that were constructed during the 20th century.
Exposure to Asbestos
Asbestos occurs naturally and is present not only in old buildings but also in homes, schools, offices, mines, shipyards, brake pads, insulation in ducts, and various manufacturing facilities. The most common victims of asbestos exposure are veterans of the U.S. Navy and blue-collar workers. Secondhand exposure is also common among family members who come into contact with the employees and their clothing.