Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that starts in the mesothelium, the thin layer of tissue that lines certain bodily cavities and covers many of your internal organs. There are several types of mesothelioma, since there are several places within the body that have this sort of tissue lining (mesothelium).
There are four major places in the body that contain a mesothelium (thin tissue lining), and there are therefore four places where you may initially develop mesothelioma, each of which is considered a different type of mesothelioma.
- Pleural Mesothelioma: The most common type of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma forms in the pleura, or the mesothelium around the lungs. It represents between 80 and 90 percent of all mesothelioma cases.
- Peritoneal Mesothelioma: Also called abdominal mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common type of mesothelioma, making up around 10-15% of total cases. It affects the peritoneum, the mesothelium lining the abdominal cavity and protecting the internal organs.
- Pericardial Mesothelioma: This form of mesothelioma affects the mesothelium tissue surrounding the heart (also called the pericardium). It is much rarer than pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, affecting less than 1% of mesothelioma patients.
- Testicular Mesothelioma: Another very rare form of mesothelioma, testicular mesothelioma affects the tissue lining around the testicles called the tunica vaginalis.
What causes mesothelioma?
Like other cancers, mesotheliomas occur when DNA—the chemical in each of our cells that makes up our genes and tells the cells what to do without our body—is damaged. The DNA damage that causes mesothelioma makes affected cells grow out of control, which leads to cancerous cell growth.
So far, research into mesothelioma has revealed some information about what causes different forms of the condition. However, additional research still needs to be conducted before we can state definitively what causes every form of the condition.
We do know that the main cause of the most common forms of mesothelioma—pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma—is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos exposure has also been linked to pericardial and testicular mesotheliomas.
Asbestos is a heat-resistant material that was used in construction and industrial fields for many years. It is made up of microscopic fibers, which become airborne when the material is disturbed. When inhaled or swallowed, the asbestos fibers can lodge in the pleura (the mesothelium tissue lining the lungs), or the peritoneum (the mesothelium tissue lining the abdomen), where they can cause inflammation and scarring over time. This can damage cell DNA, which can lead to the development of mesothelioma in the affected area.
What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
All forms of mesothelioma have similarities and differences—including when it comes to symptoms.
Certain symptoms can be experienced with any form of mesothelioma. These include:
- Feeling unwell with no alternative explanation (also called “malaise”)
- Night sweats
- A consistent or recurring fever
- Sudden, unintended weight loss
Beyond those symptoms, there are additional symptoms that may indicate specific types of mesothelioma.
- Chest pain (linked to pleural effusion, or a buildup of fluid between your lungs and your chest wall)
- Shoulder pain
- Painful, chronic dry coughing
- Shortness of breath and labored breathing (dyspnea) that comes on slowly and gets worse over time.
- Trouble swallowing and throat/esophageal pain (dysphagia).
- A constant or recurrent sensation of having something stuck in the back of your throat.
- New or unusual lumps of tissue under the skin of the chest
- Lower back pain (often caused by pressure on the nerves and spinal cord)
- Swelling in the face and arms
- Loss of appetite and difficulty eating
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Abdominal and stomach bloating
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Blood clots
- Abdominal swelling and abnormal fluid collection (ascites)
- Diarrhea and gastrointestinal distress
- Bowel or urinary problems
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite, constantly feeling full, and difficulty eating
- Breathing difficulties
- Blockages in small intestine
- Low blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Dry cough
- Abnormal heart rhythms, especially the onset of a new heart murmur
- Heart palpitations
- Difficulty breathing (including labored and painful breathing)
- Shortness of breath (with or without activity)
- Worsening of shortness of breath when lying down
- Hydrocele (swelling in the scrotum caused by fluid accumulation)
- Lumps, cysts, or masses in the scrotum
- Tenderness or pain in the testicles, scrotum, or groin area
- Inguinal mass (a mass that may mimic an inguinal hernia)
- Epididymis (inflammation of the sperm-carrying tube in the testicles)
When should I see my doctor about mesothelioma symptoms?
Always talk to your doctor about your concerns as soon as possible. It is better to be safe than sorry.
However, it should be noted that mesothelioma is very rare, and it is notably unlikely that you have mesothelioma unless you were exposed to asbestos, or (to a lesser extent) another potential cause of mesothelioma.
If you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos, you should see a doctor about mesothelioma testing regardless of if you have symptoms or not. Mesothelioma only tends to present with symptoms once the disease is fairly far advanced. Catching mesothelioma before symptoms form gives patients the best possible advantage when it comes to prognosis.
Are you or a loved one looking for more information about mesothelioma? Call (855) 385-9532 today.