Rare cancer often linked to asbestos exposure

A thin lining called the mesothelium surrounds and protects all of our internal organs. One of its functions is to produce a lubricating fluid that allows the organs to move easily around each other within the body. Mesothelioma, or malignant mesothelioma as it is often called, refers to cancer that starts in this lining, often originating in the lining around the lungs. It may also form in the lining around the heart, abdomen or testicles.

There are also benign (noncancerous) forms of mesothelioma.

Risk factors, symptoms and diagnosis of mesothelioma

People most at risk for this type of cancer are men who have been exposed to (by breathing in) asbestos for a long period of time. Asbestos is a highly toxic material commonly used in certain industries such as construction and automotive. A person who repeatedly breathes in asbestos dust or fibers may later develop mesothelioma although some people exposed to asbestos never develop the disease. Family members exposed to asbestos dust from the person's clothing may also be at risk. However, symptoms of mesothelioma may not show up for 20 to 50 years after exposure.

A person with pleural mesothelioma (originating in the lining of the lungs) may experience symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Shortness of breath

A person with peritoneal mesothelioma (originating in the lining of the abdomen) may experience symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Swollen belly
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you are at risk for developing mesothelioma and you have symptoms that are concerning you, your doctor may recommend certain tests such as a blood test, X-ray, CT scan, and biopsy.

If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, your doctor will discuss different treatment approaches with you. Because mesothelioma is a very aggressive and often fatal form of cancer, treatment will depend on your age and overall health condition, and the degree to which the cancer has spread. It is commonly treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.