What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a relatively rare form of cancer that develops in the tissue that surrounds certain internal organs of the body, including the chest, heart and abdomen. In fact, mesothelioma is named for that protective membrane, the mesothelium. The mesothelium protects the body’s vital internal organs, mainly by producing a lubricating fluid which provides a slick surface for these internal organs to slide past each other during movement.
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Types of Mesothelioma
Based on the location of the tumor development, mesothelioma is most commonly divided into four different categories. These include:
- Pleural: This form of cancer develops in the chest cavity and comprises about 75 percent of all mesothelioma cases.
- Peritoneal: This form of cancer develops in the abdomen and accounts for about 20 percent of the cases of mesothelioma.
- Pericardial: Developing around the heart, this form of cancer is rare and accounts for only about five percent of the mesothelioma cases seen.
- Testicular: Extremely rare, this form of cancer can be seen in less than one percent of all mesothelioma patients.
Based on the cell appearance under a microscope, mesothelioma can also be divided into four different main categories. The American Cancer Society explains these include:
- Epithelioid: The most commonly seen form of this cancer, this form tends to give patients a better prognosis than the other varieties.
- Sarcomatoid, or Fibrous: Only about 10 to 20 percent of mesothelioma cancer cases are this type.
- Mixed, or Biphasic: Around 30 to 40 percent of mesothelioma types are this cancer. It possesses features of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid mesothelioma.
- Desmoplastic: This is a rare form of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is characterized by its low rate of successful treatment. This can be greatly explained by the delay in its development, known as latency, and its easily-overlooked symptoms. In fact, early symptoms of mesothelioma are virtually non-existent. With generic symptoms that develop slowly and mimic many other illnesses, mesothelioma is rarely diagnosed quickly in patients. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma typically include shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, or a persistent cough. Peritoneal mesothelioma patients may experience fatigue, nausea, the development of lumps under the skin, abdominal swelling, or pain. Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms may appear as chest pain, a cough, irregular heartbeat or fatigue. As a result of its rarity, little is known about the symptoms of testicular mesothelioma.
This slow recognition of mesothelioma helps explain its lethal quality. Like most diseases, mesothelioma is best treated in its earliest stages, when tumors are localized and the patient is healthiest. However, this is rarely possible and patients must resort to seeking treatment as their health begins to noticeably fail. Adding to the difficulty of treating this disease, many options, like surgery, are no longer available when this cancer is found in its late stages. Patient age and level of health determine the treatments available, and on account of the advanced age of most mesothelioma patients, a full range of treatments is rarely available.