Mesothelioma: what is it?
The mesothelium is the thin membrane that lines
the three serous cavities within the human body: the
pleural cavity, containing the lungs; the pericardial
cavity, containing the heart; and the peritoneal cavity,
containing the stomach, the liver, the intestine, the
spleen and, in the female, the ovaries and the uterus.
Besides lining the serous cavities, the mesothelium also
covers the outside of the organs contained in those
Mesothelioma is the cancer of mesothelium. It can
be benign or more commonly malignant. Depending on the
body area where it develops, mesothelioma is classified
in different types, which, in order of their frequency,
are: pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma and
Mesothelioma develops when some cells of the mesothelium
begin to grow abnormally out of control and form a mass
called a tumor, which can compress internal organs and
interfere with their proper functioning. These cells can
also invade and destroy nearby tissues and sometimes
spread through the bloodstream to distant organs,
forming metastasis. Nobody knows why, at a certain point
of their life cycle, some cells become abnormal. However
it has been shown that people at the greatest risk of
developing mesothelioma are those exposed to high levels
of asbestos or those exposed to asbestos (regardless of
exposure level) for many years.
Symptoms of mesothelioma are not specific to the
condition, but are common with many other diseases. They
usually vary depending on where mesothelioma develops.
Symptoms of pleural and pericardial mesothelioma
generally include chest pain, short or difficult
breathing and dry cough, while symptoms of peritoneal
mesothelioma are usually related to abdominal organs and
include abdominal pain or swelling, diarrhea or
constipation and weight loss without apparent reason.
Although mesothelioma is a rare disease, whenever
a patient develops the symptoms above he should consult
with the doctor to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of
mesothelioma, since untreated mesothelioma can lead to
severe, life-threatening complications.
Mesothelioma and General Health condition
Just as with many other types of cancer, the
treatment of mesothelioma depends on the general health
of the patient, as well as on the cancer stage and its
Surgical removal is usually effective when the
cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, otherwise it has
to be combined with chemotherapy or radiation therapy to
prevent the remaining cancer cells from growing and/or
spreading and relieve signs and symptoms as much as
possible. In any case, it is important to remember that mesothelioma is often diagnosed at a stage too advanced
to be completely removed by surgery, and hence long-term
combination therapy is often the only option to control
Finally, alternative therapies* such as acupuncture,
relaxation and breath training, can help relieve certain
symptoms related to mesothelioma (especially shortness
of breath), although they are not substitutes for
traditional therapy, since they cannot cure the disease
but only improve the symptoms.
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*Always seek professional medical advise from a
qualified doctor before undergoing any treatment.