Mesothelioma Types

Mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, can affect the mesothelium (tissue covering the internal organs) in different areas of the body. Many types of mesothelioma can result from asbestos exposure, and the disease may be classified according to the area of the body affected.

Types of Mesothelioma - What is Mesothelioma

Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma affects the pleural membrane, or the mesothelium surrounding the lungs. According to the Mesothelioma Center, this type accounts for approximately 70 percent of all cases of mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma develops when asbestos particles in the air are inhaled. These particles then cause abnormal cancerous cells to grow in the pleural membranes. Symptoms and complications of pleural mesothelioma may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing (sometimes coughing up blood)
  • Difficulty swallowing and breathing.

These symptoms are caused by the proliferation of tumor cells that thicken the pleura, and can compress the lungs in the chest cavity. These symptoms can often be mistaken for less serious conditions, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, which may delay proper diagnosis.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

When mesothelioma affects the abdominal organs, it is known as peritoneal mesothelioma. This is the second most common type of mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma develops with continuous ingestion of asbestos particles. This brings the asbestos into contact with the stomach and leads to growth of abnormal cells in the mesothelium of the abdominal organs. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include:

  • Nausea
  • Pain and/or swelling in the stomach and abdomen
  • Weight loss.

Like pleural mesothelioma, the nonspecific symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma can lead to misdiagnosis.

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma can also affect the tissue covering of the heart. This is known as pericardial mesothelioma. This type of mesothelioma is much rarer than both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath.

When mesothelioma affects the pericardium, the disease has usually progressed to an advanced stage and is difficult to treat.

Mesothelioma Cell Types

Mesothelioma can also be classified according to the cell type causing the cancer. These three types can only be differentiated through examination under a microscope, and are the following:

  • Epitheliod mesothelioma: This cell type represents the highest proportion of cases (50 to 70 percent) and has the best prognosis.
  • Mixed/biphasic mesothelioma: This combination of sarcomatoid and epitheliod mesothelioma cell types makes up approximately 20 to 35 percent of cases.
  • Sarcomatoid mesothelioma: This type is rarer and more serious, comprising 7 to 20 percent of mesothelioma cases. It is more aggressive than epitheliod mesothelioma, and doesn’t respond well to treatment.

Benign Mesothelioma

Benign tumor growths can also develop in the mesothelium. The cause of these tumors, called benign mesothelioma, is unknown. Benign mesothelioma tumors are not composed of abnormal cancer cells, and will not spread to other areas of the body. They can, however, cause symptoms similar symptoms to those associated with malignant mesothelioma, particularly if they grow to large sizes. Benign mesothelioma is usually treated early with surgical removal of the tumor.

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Mesothelioma Center Staff. (n.d.). Pleural mesothelioma. Retrieved December 21, 2009, from the Mesothelioma Center Web site:

Mesothelioma Web Staff. (2009). Mesothelioma cell types. Retrieved December 21, 2009, from the Web site: