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Mesothelioma: A Rare Form of Cancer

Mesothelioma, or, more precisely, malignant mesothelioma, is a rare form of cancer that develops from cells of the protective lining that covers many of the internal organs of the body. Mesothelioma is most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos. The most common site for mesothelioma is the outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall, but it can also arise in the the lining of the abdominal cavity, the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart, or the sac that surrounds the testis.

Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked in careers such as mining, where they inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers, or were exposed to airborne asbestos dust and fibers in other ways. Washing the clothing of a family member who worked with asbestos also creates, Paraoccupational Secondary Exposure, a risk for developing mesothelioma.

Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath due to fluid between the lung and the chest wall (pleural effusion), chest wall pain and unexplained weight loss. The diagnosis may be suspected based on a chest X-ray and/or CT scan findings, but must be confirmed either by examining serous effusion cytology or with a biopsy. A process of inserting a tube with a camera into the chest can be used to acquire biopsy material, and allows the introduction of substances such as talc to obliterate the pleural space (a procedure called pleurodesis), preventing more fluid from accumulating and pressing on the lung. Despite treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or sometimes surgery, mesothelioma carries a poor prognosis. Research about screening tests for the early detection of mesothelioma is ongoing.

Common Questions About The Disease:

Certain factors affect the chance of recovery and treatment options for mesothelioma and depend on the following:

A mesothelioma prognosis usually is not favorable, but may vary depending on the stage of the cancer. Diagnosing the cancer in the early stages offers a more hopeful outlook because doctors can still perform curative surgery to remove tumors.

ClinicalTrials.gov: Mesothelioma (National Institutes of Health)

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