Major Types of Mesothelioma

What are the three major types of mesothelioma?

A mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects tissues surrounding internal organs such as the heart, lungs, or abdomen. The disease typically develops in people who have had long-term exposure to asbestos. Although it is not the most common form of cancer, mesothelioma claims more lives than other types of cancer.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis

The diagnosis of mesothelioma begins with a review of the patient’s medical history for possible risk factors including asbestos exposure, occupation, family history, and genetic predisposition. Doctors will also order lab tests to assess overall health including blood counts, CT scans, PET scans, or other imaging exams.

During the physical examination, doctors look for signs of respiratory problems that may be linked to mesotheliomas such as shortness of breath or pleural pain (sharp chest pain that worsens when breathing deeply). Doctors will perform a physical exam and listen to the patient’s heart and lungs with a stethoscope to determine if any abnormalities are present.

Based on the findings from these tests, doctors will often order a biopsy which is performed under local anesthesia. A needle is inserted into the tumor or affected area of tissue and a sample is removed for analysis. This test is sometimes inconclusive, however, doctors may use it to determine the type of mesothelioma they are dealing with.

Three major types of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. This lining, called the mesothelium, produces the fluid that surrounds and cushions these organs. The three types of mesothelioma are:

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

About 80% of mesothelioma cases are peritoneal, which means cancer starts in the lining of the abdomen. Usually, this cancer occurs in middle-aged to older people, however, there have been rare cases in younger patients. The most common signs and symptoms associated with peritoneal mesothelioma are:

  1. Weight loss
  2. Abdominal pain
  3. Swelling
  4. Loss of appetite
  5. Nausea and vomiting

Pleural Mesothelioma

About 10% of mesothelioma cases are pleural, which means cancer starts in the lining surrounding the lungs. Usually, this cancer occurs in middle-aged to older people, however, there have been rare cases in younger patients. The most common signs and symptoms associated with pleural mesothelioma are:

  1. Shortness of breath
  2. Chest pain
  3. Coughing up blood

Pericardial Mesothelioma

About 10% of mesothelioma cases are pericardial, which means cancer starts in the lining surrounding the heart. Usually, this cancer occurs in middle-aged to older people, however, there have been rare cases in younger patients. The most common signs and symptoms associated with pericardial mesothelioma are:

  1. Shortness of breath
  2. Chest pain
  3. Swelling of legs or ankles

The American Cancer Society reports that about 3,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. It is estimated that more than 70 million Americans were exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1979. Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has the ability to resist fire, heat, and corrosion. When used in buildings, ships, and other structures, these properties made asbestos a popular substance. However, its use is limited today because it has been linked to diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Effect of Asbestos Exposure On Different Types of Mesothelioma

Asbestos has been used in the manufacture of a wide variety of products for its fire-resistant properties since ancient times. In modern times, especially during the second half of the 20th century, asbestos was widely used in construction and shipbuilding. Asbestos materials were often mixed with cement to produce what is known as “cement asbestos” which is resistant to high temperatures, chemical corrosion, and electricity.

Inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to a number of respiratory problems including asbestosis, a chronic inflammatory disease that scars the lungs over time. In mesothelioma cases, asbestos fibers become trapped in the lung tissue causing inflammation and cell damage which leads to tumors. It typically takes 20-50 years for cancer to develop after exposure. Asbestos is also linked to other cancers including laryngeal, ovarian, and stomach cancer.

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that was mined and widely used for commercial purposes during the 20th century. It was valued as an insulator and flame retardant because it could be woven into fabrics, braided into rope, pressed into gaskets, and processed into spray fireproofing materials.

Asbestos exposure has been shown to cause several types of cancers, including the most common type of mesothelioma.

There are four main categories that encompass all asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma: pleural cancer, peritoneal cancer, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Most people with malignant mesothelioma will fall under one of the following categories.

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of asbestos-related cancer. It develops in the lining of the lungs, known as the pleura. If you have this form of cancer, it means that your exposure to asbestos was often localized to your chest area, such as if you worked in an environment that required you to use asbestos products. This type of cancer accounts for about 75 percent of all mesothelioma cases.

Pericardial mesothelioma is the second most common form of the disease, although it accounts for less than 10 percent of all cases. If you have this type of cancer, your exposure to asbestos was usually localized to your upper body and abdomen.

Peritoneal mesothelioma, which is the least common type of asbestos-related cancer, develops in the lining of the stomach area as well as other abdominal organs. This type accounts for about 15 percent of all cases. If you have peritoneal cancer, the likelihood is that you were exposed to asbestos from a variety of different environments or through a combination of factors.

Asbestosis is the chronic inflammatory condition caused by inhaling or ingesting high levels of asbestos fibers. If you have this disease, it means that your exposure to asbestos was likely very intense and prolonged; however, it does not always lead to cancer.

Other forms of an asbestos-related cancer are known as pleuropulmonary cancers. They are generally categorized under one of the four main types listed above, but they affect different parts of the respiratory system instead of the respiratory organs themselves.

Asbestos exposure can also cause lung disease, although it is not considered asbestos-related cancer like the other conditions listed. If you suffer from asbestosis or pleuropulmonary cancers, your risk of lung disease increases because your lungs can be affected by toxins released during cell death.

Lung diseases associated with asbestos exposure include asbestosis, diffuse pleural thickening, and pulmonary interstitial fibrosis.

What are the three major types of mesothelioma based on cells?

The three major types of mesothelioma include:

  1. epithelial,
  2. sarcomatous,
  3. mixed. 

Mesotheliomas are rare cancers that develop from the protective linings that cover many organs in the body such as the heart, lungs or abdomen. In rare cases, mesothelioma may affect the linings of the lungs.

When doctors diagnose the condition, they must determine what type of mesothelioma is present because each type responds to different treatments. Further, when doctors identify the exact location of tumors within the body they can target more specific areas for treatment with surgery or chemotherapy.

Epithelial Mesothelioma

It is the most common form of mesothelioma and accounts for about 95 percent of all cases. This type begins in cells that line the outer surface of body organs, such as the lungs and heart. For example, if a person inhaled or swallowed asbestos fibers and traveled to the lining of the lungs, this is where epithelial cells would react to them. The main symptoms of this type are shortness of breath and pain in the chest or abdomen.

Sarcomatous Mesothelioma

Sarcomatous mesothelioma is an uncommon, aggressive form that begins in the cells that surround internal organs.

Mixed Mesothelioma

Mixed mesothelioma is a combination of both types. Most mixed tumors begin in the lining that covers the outer surface of the organ and then spread into another type of cell. For example, an epithelial tumor can begin in the lining of the lungs and then spread into nearby cells that are typically sarcomatous.

Conclusion

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the lining surrounding several of the body’s internal organs including the lungs, abdomen, and heart. Mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos, a mineral fiber known for its heat-resistant properties. Although the use of asbestos has declined dramatically in recent decades, millions of American workers and consumers were exposed before regulations were introduced.

There are three main types of mesothelioma: pleural which affects the lining around the lungs (also called the pleura), peritoneal which affects the lining around the abdomen, and pericardial which affects the lining around the heart.

The three main types of mesothelioma are named according to where they start. There is also another rare type called testicular mesothelioma that affects men’s reproductive organs.

More recently, some attention has been given to another potential cause of mesothelioma called nanomaterials which are manufactured in microscopic size and often have more potent effects than larger materials. Although research is just beginning into the health risks of nanoparticles, they are being used more frequently in consumer products.

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