Malignant mesothelioma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are found in the pleura (the thin layer of tissue that lines the chest cavity and covers the lungs) or the peritoneum (the thin layer of tissue that lines the abdomen and covers most of the organs in the abdomen). This summary is about malignant mesothelioma of the pleura.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that is known to cause cancer. This type of cancer is almost always caused by exposure to it. Even a small amount of exposure can be a risk. Other fibers can cause mesothelioma.
Factors that increase your chances of getting pleural mesothelioma include:
- Repeated exposure to asbestos fibers
- Living with a person who works near exposed asbestos fibers
- Exposure to other fibers (erionite, fluoro-edenite, and refractory ceramic)
- Exposure to ionizing radiation
This cancer can take up to 20-40 years to develop. Early signs of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Trouble breathing
- Long-lasting cough
- Pain under the rib cage or in the abdomen
- Pain while breathing
- Weight loss and fatigue
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
- Biopsy: fine-needle aspiration biopsy; thoracoscopy; thoracotomy; laparotomy; open biopsy
- Cytologic exam (performed by a pathologist who examines cells from the biopsies)
Pleural mesothelioma is usually treated with:
- Combinations of these three treatments may work the best
The only known way to prevent this cancer is to avoid asbestos or other fibers. People who could be exposed to asbestos at work include:
- Factory workers
- Insulation workers
- Railroad workers
- Ship builders
- Makers of gas masks
- Construction workers
Family members of workers can also be at risk for this cancer. The asbestos fibers can be brought home on clothing. This type of exposure is just as dangerous.
Asbestos can also be found in old building insulation, roofing materials, and tiles.
To avoid exposure to asbestos:
- Workers should use proper safety equipment and precautions.
- Workers should use safety measures to avoid bringing asbestos dust home on their clothing.
- Areas of exposed asbestos must be checked by experts. This may be old public buildings and homes with asbestos shingles, tiles, or insulation.
- Exposed areas must be removed by proper means or sealed off.
- A homeowner untrained in asbestos abatement should never attempt to remove asbestos material.
Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.