What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an uncommon form of cancer, usually
associated with previous exposure to asbestos, which
affects the pleura, a sac which surrounds the lungs,
the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal cavity, or
the  pericardium, a sac that surrounds the heart.

In this disease, malignant (cancerous) cells are found
in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most
of the body's internal organs. Most people who
develop Mesothelioma have worked on jobs where
they inhaled asbestos particles, or have been exposed
to asbestos dust and fiber in other ways, such as by
washing the clothes of a family member who worked
with asbestos, or by home renovation using asbestos
cement products.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma may not appear until 30
to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. Shortness of
breath and pain in the chest due to an accumulation
of fluid in the pleura are often symptoms of pleural
Mesothelioma. Symptoms of peritoneal
Mesothelioma include weight loss and abdominal
pain and swelling due to a buildup of fluid in the
abdomen. Other symptoms of peritoneal
Mesothelioma may include bowel obstruction, blood
clotting abnormalities, anemia, and fever. If the
cancer has spread beyond the mesothelium to other
parts of the body, symptoms may include pain,
trouble swallowing, or swelling of the neck or face.

These symptoms may be caused by Mesothelioma or
by other, less serious conditions. It is important to
see a doctor about any of these symptoms. Only a
doctor can make a diagnosis.  
Diagnosis of Mesothelioma.

Diagnosing Mesothelioma is often difficult, because
the symptoms are similar to those of a number of
other conditions. Diagnosis begins with a review of
the patient's medical history, including any history of
asbestos exposure. A complete physical examination
may be performed, including x-rays of the chest or
abdomen and lung function tests. A CT (or CAT) scan
or an MRI may also be useful. A CT scan is a series of
detailed pictures of areas inside the body created by
a computer linked to an x-ray machine. In an MRI, a
powerful magnet linked to a computer is used to make
detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These
pictures are viewed on a monitor and can also be
printed.

A biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis of
Mesothelioma. In a biopsy, a surgeon or a medical
oncologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing
and treating cancer) removes a sample of tissue for
examination under a microscope by a pathologist. A
biopsy may be done in different ways, depending on
where the abnormal area is located. If the cancer is in
the chest, the doctor may perform a thoracoscopy. In
this procedure, the doctor makes a small cut through
the chest wall and puts a thin, lighted tube called a
thoracoscope into the chest between two ribs.
Thoracoscopy allows the doctor to look inside the
chest and obtain tissue samples. If the cancer is in
the abdomen, the doctor may perform a
peritoneoscopy. To obtain tissue for examination, the
doctor makes a small opening in the abdomen and
inserts a special instrument called a peritoneoscope
into the abdominal cavity. If these procedures do not
yield enough tissue, more extensive diagnostic
surgery may be necessary.

If the diagnosis is Mesothelioma, the doctor will want
to learn the stage (or extent) of the disease. Staging
involves more tests in a careful attempt to find out
whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to which
parts of the body. Knowing the stage of the disease
helps the doctor plan treatment.

Mesothelioma is described as localized if the cancer
is found only on the membrane surface where it
originated. It is classified as advanced if it has spread
beyond the original membrane surface to other parts
of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, chest
wall, or abdominal organs.  
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