What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that can take up to 50 years to develop. This is caused when an individual has been exposed to asbestos. It will form in the linings of the lungs, heart, chest and even in the abdomen.

You may be unaware that your body has a thin membrane that covers and even provides lubrication to different cavities within the body. This membrane is called the mesothelium. Exposure to asbestos can lead to cancer in this lining, which is known as mesothelioma.

The Causes of Mesothelioma

The cause of mesothelioma is almost always due to exposure to asbestos – a naturally occurring mineral. Throughout the 20th century, it became very popular because it was extremely resistant to heat and was great for insulating various types of materials. It was used for a number of different things ranging from brake pads in cars to the insulation used in commercial and residential buildings and homes. The United States Armed Forces also made common use of this material.

Even after the products hazardous nature was discovered, companies continued to use asbestos in their products. Because of this, many workers were exposed to asbestos and began to suffer health complications. Common products that used asbestos include cement boards, cement walls, ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, joint compounds, textiles or protective clothing (specifically for heat resistance), car brake pads, and clutches. Navy vessels also made heavy use of asbestos insulation, alongside several other military products.

When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested and taken into the body, they can become stuck in the mesothelium – the lining that surrounds both the pleura and the peritoneum. It is difficult for your body to get rid of these fibers.

Mesothelioma has a latency period of 10-50 years, meaning you are still at risk of developing mesothelioma years after exposure to asbestos. If you know that you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos, then it is even more imperative to stay on top of your health. Knowing the warning signs can help you and your physician catch symptoms early. The earlier the diagnosis, the better your prognosis.

Fibers that become stuck in the pleura are what can cause pleural mesothelioma. Fibers that become stuck around the stomach or abdomen – the peritoneum – is what can lead to peritoneal mesothelioma. Although rare, fibers can also make their way to the pericardial tissue around your heart causing pericardial mesothelioma or the tunica vaginalis, leading to testicular mesothelioma.

Understanding the Types of Mesothelioma

Pleural Mesothelioma

This cancer develops in the lining of the lungs and accounts for about 75 percent of the diagnosed cases.

Understanding the Types of Mesothelioma

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for approximately 20 percent of mesothelioma cases and is the second most common type.

Understanding the Types of Mesothelioma

Pericardial Mesothelioma

This is the most rare form, making up around 1 percent of cases, and attacks the lining of the heart.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a very difficult type of cancer to diagnose. This makes knowing the symptoms of mesothelioma challenging since they so closely mirror other common illnesses and sicknesses. However, each type of mesothelioma does have some signs and symptoms that you can look out for:


  • Effusions (Fluid)
  • Weight Loss
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Persistent Dry Cough
  • Persistent Chest Pain
  • Difficulty Swallowing
  • General Fatigue


  • Abdominal Pain
  • Weight Loss
  • Nausea / Vomiting
  • Bowel Irregularity
  • General Fatigue
  • Seizures (10 percent of patients)
  • Ascites (Fluid)


  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Chest Pain
  • General Fatigue
  • Weight Loss
  • Irregular Heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Heart Murmurs


  • Fluid buildup in the scrotum
  • Testicular pain
  • The growth of a mass

Stages of Mesothelioma

After the doctor has determined that they are actually dealing with mesothelioma they will need to identify exactly what stage it is in. This will also help them identify what type of treatment will be the best for you. There are four types of mesothelioma stages. Stage 1 is the earliest and least severe and stage 4 is the most progressed.

Stage 1 – It is often difficult to reach a diagnosis at this stage. There is no involvement from lymph nodes and the cancer is localized to its point of origin.

Stage 2 – Mesothelioma is still confined to the same point of origin as it is in stage 1. There are times when there could be regional lymph nodes affected. There will be a number of different options related to treatment at this point. Surgery may still even be carried out.

Stage 3 – This is when cancer has spread beyond the original point of origin and other lymph nodes are becoming affected. It is still possible for surgery to be carried out at this point, although less likely.

Stage 4 – Lymph nodes and other organs are going to be affected by cancer at this point. Organ failure is a strong possibility at this point. When cancer has reached this stage there are not going to be as many treatment options. Seeing a specialist is urgent at this stage.

Some forms of mesothelioma and lung cancer rely on the TNM system in regards to discussing staging. “T” refers to the Tumor, specifically it’s size and location. “N” stands for Nodes, particularly whether your lymph nodes have been infected. “M” is for Metastasis, which indicates whether your cancer has spread to other organs. Numbers and letters alongside these three main abbreviations indicate the staging of your cancer.

The specialist is going to make recommendations about what type of treatment is needed to remove cancer based on what stage it is in. There are different ways to measure the stages and your doctor will make recommendations based on what type of system they use. You should always think about getting a second opinion from specialists.

Are You at Risk?

There are a lot of people that may have been exposed to asbestos. This could include individuals that worked in factories, military veterans, people that made and moved insulation and even those who were involved with building ships.

Believe it or not, the family members of those individuals that may have brought these fibers home on their clothing may also be at risk. This is called secondary exposure.

You can still be exposed to mesothelioma today. Older buildings from the 1980s may have asbestos in several materials. It is crucial to have older buildings and products tested to ensure that no asbestos is present.

Many are also surprised to learn that asbestos is not a manmade material. These fibers can also be found in nature. Anyone living near an asbestos deposit is at risk, as they can be exposed to the mineral through groundwater or by breathing the dust from mining operations.

If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos and are at risk of mesothelioma, then fill out the questionnaire on this page and an advocate will get back with you soon.

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