Mesothelioma Overview

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer affecting the mesothelium, or the tissue that covers the internal organs of the body. The cells of the mesothelium create a fluid that makes movement easier for the organs. For example, the mesothelium of the lungs eases the movement of these organs in the process of breathing. Mesothelioma can cause a build-up of this fluid, and the resulting pressure on the internal organs can lead to painful symptoms.

There are several types of mesothelioma, each affecting a different area of the body. The most common form is pleural malignant mesothelioma, which affects the lungs. Mesothelioma can also affect the mesothelium in other parts of the body, including the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) and abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma).

Types of Mesothelioma - What is Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma symptoms will vary depending on the affected body area, such as the lungs or abdomen. Because its symptoms are nonspecific and can be mistaken for symptoms of other, more benign conditions, mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose early. For example, abdominal pain may accompany mesothelioma affecting the abdominal organs, and shortness of breath or chest pain may result from pleural effusion (fluid buildup) which results from mesothelioma cancer in the lungs.

What Causes Mesothelioma?

Like other cancers, mesothelioma occurs when a mutation causes the rapid and abnormal growth of cells. This cell growth causes malignant tumors, which can be damaging to the primary affected body area, and potentially spread to other areas of the body (known as metastasis).

Mesothelioma’s primary cause is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a material that was once often used in insulation and other building applications. Because of its known dangers, asbestos is no longer used in new constructions. Individuals who hold certain types of jobs may be at higher risk for developing mesothelioma. You may be exposed to asbestos if you work in older buildings, where asbestos fibers may be released into the air and breathed into the lungs, or ingested into the stomach.

Prolonged exposure can cause an accumulation of asbestos in the body, which can lead to the growth of abnormal cancerous cells. Mesothelioma may develop decades after asbestos exposure.

Mesothelioma Treatment

Like many other forms of cancer, mesothelioma can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Prognosis will depend largely on the stage of the cancer, your overall health and the type of mesothelioma from which you suffer. Predictions are better when the disease is caught early, although early detection is often difficult.


American Cancer Society Staff. (2009). What is mesothelioma? Retrieved December 21, 2009, from the American Cancer Society Web site:

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Mesothelioma. Retrieved December 21, 2009, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: Staff. (n.d.). What is mesothelioma? Retrieved December 21, 2009, from the Web site: Staff. (2009). Mesothelioma symptoms. Retrieved December 21, 2009, from the MesotheliomaWeb Website: