The mesothelium is a protective membrane that lines most of the organs in the body. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects this protective lining. Approximately seventy-five percent of mesothelioma cases begin in the pleural mesothelium in the chest, but it can also begin in the heart or the abdomen. The cancer cells may also invade and damage the surrounding tissues and metastasize to other parts of the body. Because mesothelioma develops slowly, symptoms don’t often appear for several years. Understanding these symptoms is critical in getting prompt medical treatment and care.
In the chest, mesothelioma occurs due to breathing in asbestos, a silicate mineral that was often used in older buildings. Symptoms may not occur in the lungs for 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure. When the cancer cells begin to invade the lining of the lungs, shortness of breath and chest pain result. Mesothelioma can also cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs, making breathing difficult.
Peritoneal mesothelioma, or mesothelioma that occurs in the abdominal lining, is found in fewer patients. According to Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C., approximately 20 percent of all mesothelioma cases occur in the abdominal lining. When the asbestos fibers are ingested or inhaled, they can work themselves into the abdominal lining and cause malignant cells to form. Symptoms include abdominal pain, swelling due to fluid accumulation, unintentional weight loss due to eating less, feelings of fullness, bowel obstruction and anemia.
When malignant cells form in the lining of the heart muscle, the cancer is known as pericardial mesothelioma. Developing mesothelioma in the heart is the rarest form of this type of cancer, with it being found in less than six percent of patients. When asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs, they can work themselves into the bloodstream over time. When the blood returns to the heart, malignant cells may form in the lining. Pericardial mesothelioma can cause chest pain, heart palpitations, fatigue after light exertion, hurt murmurs, night sweats, chronic cough and fevers to occur.
Because mesothelioma develops so slowly that symptoms often go unnoticed, the five-year survival rate is only five to 10 percent. Individuals who have been exposed to asbestos during construction or living in houses with the building material should be periodically examined and scanned for problems in their lungs, abdomen or heart. Doing so can help to catch it before it spreads to other parts of the body and potentially save lives.