Malignant Mesothelioma Overview
What is malignant mesothelioma?
Cancer is made of changed cells that grow out of control. The
changed (abnormal) cells often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cancer
cells can also grow into (invade) nearby areas. And they can spread to other parts
of the body. This is called metastasis.
The mesothelium is a tissue that covers and protects the outer
surface of some organs. These include the lungs, stomach, and heart. It also lines
body cavities, such as the chest and belly (abdomen). It makes fluid that helps the
organs slide against each other when you move and breathe.
Malignant mesothelioma is a rare kind of cancer that starts in the
mesothelium. It’s often called just mesothelioma. It most often starts in the
mesothelium that surrounds the lungs (pleura). This cancer is called pleural
The mesothelium that lines the abdomen is called the peritoneum.
If the cancer starts there, it’s called peritoneal mesothelioma.
Unlike many other types of cancer, mesothelioma often doesn’t grow
as a tumor. Instead it grows along the thin tissue. Over time, mesothelioma can grow
into nearby tissues and organs or spread to other parts of the body.
Who is at risk for malignant mesothelioma?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having
a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors
can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in
your control. But others may be things you can change.
The risk factors for mesothelioma include:
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for
mesothelioma and what you can do about them.
Can malignant mesothelioma be prevented?
There’s no sure way to prevent mesothelioma. But it’s important to
stay away from or limit exposure to asbestos. This is a big concern for people who
work in certain industries. These include construction, insulation manufacturing,
and textile manufacturing. Follow all safety precautions. You may need to wear
protective clothing and a respirator.
Many older homes and other buildings may have materials that
contain asbestos. If you think asbestos may be in your home, ask an expert to check
your home. Don’t disturb asbestos or try to remove it yourself. If needed, hire a
trained asbestos expert to check and remove asbestos in your home.
Are there screening tests for malignant
There are no regular screening tests for mesothelioma in
people at average risk. Screening tests are done to check for disease in people
who don’t have symptoms.
But if you’ve been exposed to large amounts of asbestos at
work, talk with your healthcare provider. Some healthcare providers may advise
tests to look for early signs of this cancer. These include CT scans or X-rays.
What are the symptoms of malignant mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma often doesn’t cause symptoms until it’s been there
for a long time. Symptoms depend on where the cancer is.
Pleural mesothelioma (in the chest) can cause symptoms such
Peritoneal mesothelioma (in the abdomen) can cause symptoms such
Many of these may be caused by other health problems. But it’s
important to see a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare
provider can tell if you have cancer.
How is malignant mesothelioma diagnosed?
Mesothelioma is most often diagnosed when you see your doctor
because of symptoms you are having. The doctor will ask you about your health
history, symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. He or she will do a
You may also have one or more of these tests:
After a diagnosis of mesothelioma, you’ll likely need other tests.
These help your healthcare providers learn more about your cancer. They can help
determine the stage of the cancer. The stage is how much and how far the cancer has
spread (metastasized) in your body. It is one of the most important things to know
when deciding how to treat the cancer.
Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk
with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Be sure to ask your
healthcare provider to explain the stage of your cancer to you in a way you can
How is malignant mesothelioma treated?
Your treatment choices depend on the type of mesothelioma you
have, test results, and the stage of the cancer. The goal of treatment may be to
control the cancer or to ease problems caused by the cancer. Talk with your
healthcare team about your treatment choices, the goals of treatment, and what the
risks and side effects may be.
Types of treatment for cancer are either local or systemic. Local
treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area. Surgery and
radiation are local treatments. Systemic treatment is used to destroy or control
cancer cells that may have traveled around your body. When taken by pill or
injection, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. You may have just one treatment or
a combination of treatments.
Mesothelioma may be treated with:
Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options.
Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each
option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a
What are treatment side effects?
Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation can damage
normal cells. This can cause side effects such as hair loss, mouth sores, and
Talk with your healthcare provider about side effects you might
have and ways to manage them. There may be things you can do and medicines you can
take to help prevent or control side effects.
Coping with malignant mesothelioma
Many people feel worried, depressed, and stressed when dealing
with cancer. Getting treatment for cancer can be hard on your mind and body. Keep
talking with your healthcare team about problems or concerns you have. Work together
to ease the effect of cancer and its symptoms on your daily life.
Here are tips:
Talk with your family or friends.
Ask your healthcare team or social worker for help.
Speak with a counselor.
Talk with a spiritual advisor, such as a minister or
Ask your healthcare team about medicines for depression or
Keep socially active.
Join a cancer support group.
Cancer treatment is also hard on the body. To help yourself stay
healthier, try to:
Eat a healthy diet, with a focus on high-protein foods.
Drink plenty of water, fruit juices, and other liquids.
Keep physically active.
Rest as much as needed.
Talk with your healthcare team about ways to manage
treatment side effects.
Take your medicines as directed by your team.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about when to call.
You may be told to call if you have any of the below:
New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
Signs of an infection, such as a fever
Side effects of treatment that affect your daily function or
don’t get better with treatment
Ask your healthcare provider what signs to watch for, and when to
call. Know how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to
Before your visit, write down questions you want
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and
remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and
any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions
your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how
it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the
results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have
the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date,
time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have