Mesothelioma is a form of lung cancer that is almost always caused by asbestos exposure and is most commonly found in the outer lining of the lungs called the mesothelium. Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos and glass particles, or they have been exposed to asbestos dust and fiber in other ways.
Asbestos exposure doesn't result immediately in cancer. It takes years for the cancer to form and cause symptoms. Workers exposed in the 1950's, 60's, and 70's are just now being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer (malignancy) that most frequently arises from the cells lining the sacs of the chest (the pleura) or the abdomen (the peritoneum).
Its most common site is the pleura (outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall), but it may also occur in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity), the pericardium (a sac that surrounds the heart), or the tunica vaginalis (a sac that surrounds the testis).
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form, often presenting with symptoms in the chest area. Peritoneal mesothelioma is much less common. This can effect the organs in the abdomen, and its symptoms are related to this area of the body, that is, abdominal swelling, nausea, vomiting, and bowel obstruction. The rarest form of mesothelioma is pericardial mesothelioma, which involves the sac surrounding the heart.
The symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath due to pleural effusion (fluid between the lung and the chest wall) or chest wall pain, and general symptoms such as weight loss.
Symptoms of mesothelioma do not appear immediately after being exposed, taking about 25 to 50 years after the initial exposure to develop. It is a very slow progressing disease that usually strikes middle age to senior adults long after their exposure to asbestos.
Symptoms of mesothelioma vary based on the type of mesothelioma, but general symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- persistent cough
- chest pain
- abdominal mass
- abdominal swelling
- abdominal pain
changes in bowel habits
Many of these symptoms are non-specific, meaning they aren't exactly red flags for mesothelioma. However, when combined with previous exposure to asbestos, it may suggest to your physician to evaluate for mesothelioma. It is very important that your doctor is aware of any prior exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma is also a rare disease, so it can be overlooked in the diagnostic process.