Malignant mesothelioma is a type of cancer commonly caused by inhaling
asbestos fibers. The word “malignant” refers to cells that
are cancerous while “mesothelioma” refers to cells of the
mesothelium, which is the tissue lining that covers vital organs like
the lungs, heart, and abdominal cavity. The most common form of mesothelioma
is pleural mesothelioma, affecting the lungs, but mesothelioma can also
affect the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (peritoneal
People who are exposed to the carcinogenic fibers “asbestos”
are at a greater risk of developing mesothelioma cancer at some point
in their lives.
Many people who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos
at the workplace, particularly those who worked in industrial environments
or veterans of the U.S. Navy. The latency period for mesothelioma is much
longer than other cancers, meaning it can take up to 40 or more years
after initial exposure to asbestos to develop the cancer.
Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma of the lungs can cause a variety of side effects, some of
which mimic the side effects of other diseases, including:
- Fluid buildup around the lungs
- Strained breathing
- Pain in the ribs
- Bumps near or around the abdomen
- Unexpected weight loss
If you are experiencing any of these
symptoms and believe you were exposed to asbestos at some point in your life, you
should contact a doctor to undergo diagnostic testing.
Malignant Mesothelioma vs. Lung Cancer
Mesothelioma is different from lung cancer. The best way for doctors to
determine which a patient has is by diagnostic tests, often multiple.
Your doctor will likely use the following to confirm or rule out a mesothelioma
The first step in the diagnostic process is a routine physical examination,
which usually includes taking your vitals and checking for lumps or any
Evaluating Your History
Your doctor will likely ask you about your health history, such as history
of lung cancer in your family, possible exposure to asbestos in your past,
and your health habits.
An x-ray examination of your chest cavity can yield important information
about the state of your lungs.
Complete Blood Count
In a CBC procedure, you will provide a blood sample to be checked for
a number of signals, including: number of red/white blood cells as well
as platelets, how much hemoglobin is in your red blood cells, and how
much of your total blood sample is red blood cells.
This type of test evaluates how quickly red blood cells from your blood
sample settle at the bottom of a test tube.
There are various different methods for biopsies, but they all perform
the same function – taking a tissue sample to be evaluated for cancer
cells or markers.
This process involves inserting a tube through a person’s trachea
into the lungs to discover whether there are any abnormalities.
Cytological exams are not always as accurate as traditional biopsies,
but this option involves taking fluid samples from the area around the
lungs to see if there are any abnormalities.
Determining a Prognosis
A patient’s chance of recovery, or “prognosis,” depends
on a number of factors, including:
- What stage the cancer has reached
- How large the tumor is
Whether the tumor can be removed through
- How much fluid buildup there is in the chest/abdomen
- The age and general health of the patient
- The type of mesothelioma
- Whether this diagnosis is a recurrence of cancer or a first-time diagnosis
Asbestos – Is a naturally occurring chemical fiber comprised of silicate minerals.
The substance is a known carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer, specifically,
mesothelioma. Although its risks were known much earlier, the substance
was used in manufacturing through the 1980s.
Biopsy – This is a procedure that involves removing tissue/cells for analysis.
A pathologist analyzes the tissue sample under a microscope to see if
it contains any cancerous cells.
Bronchoscope – A bronchoscope is a fiber-optic cable that a doctor can use to see a patient’s
lungs, airways, vocal chords, trachea, and other organs in that general
area. The scope is inserted through the patient’s windpipe in the
procedure known as a bronchoscopy.
Complete Blood Count – A CBC is a type of test doctors use to analyze cells in a person’s
blood. Doctors take blood samples and evaluate how many white blood cells,
red blood cells, and platelets there are.
Cytology – The cytology exam is similar to a biopsy in that it evaluates tissues and
cells to determine if they are cancerous.
Fine-Needle Aspiration – This type of procedure involves inserting a thin needle through an affected
area (where there is a lump or mass) and drawing out cells for analysis.
Hemoglobin – Hemoglobin is a red protein that your body needs to get oxygen
in your blood.
Laparotomy – This is a type of incision performed by a surgeon on a patient’s
abdomen. Laparotomy can be used to both diagnose and prepare a patient
Malignant – The word “malignant” means cancerous, so paired with mesothelioma,
this means cancerous cells in the mesothelium.
Pathologist – This type of physician exclusively focuses on the study of bodily fluids
and tissues. You might be referred to a pathologist by your primary care
doctor if he or she suspects you have cancer.
Peritoneum – The peritoneum is the thin tissue layer surrounding your abdominal
cavity. That is why cancer of the peritoneum is referred to as peritoneal
Platelet – Platelets are cells found in a person’s blood. They are important
because they bind together (clot) when they sense damage to the vessels.
Pleura – The pleura is the thin tissue layer surrounding the lungs.
Sedimentation Rate – This is a type of blood test that your physician might recommend
if he or she suspects cancer. The test measures how quickly the red blood
cells settle at the bottom of the test tube.
Thoracoscopy – This thin, flexible tube is used to inspect a person’s lungs. It
is inserted through a small cut in a person’s chest and has a camera
on it for the surgeon to view the lungs and pleura.
Thoracotomy – A thoracotomy is an incision into the wall of a patient’s chest.
X-Ray – Imaging technology that uses
radiation, in low doses, to provide images of a person’s insides.