Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that affects the mesothelium, the protective tissue lining covering internal organs, like the lungs and abdomen. Cancer of mesothelium may begin in the pleural membrane, the abdominal cavity or the heart. The cancerous cells may then invade the neighboring tissue and spread to other parts of the body. Mesothelioma may result in life threatening complications, like respiratory failure and cardiac complications. Although this type of cancer is very serious and aggressive, it is rare compared to other types of cancer.
Cancer of mesothelium results from uncontrolled division and growth of cells in the tissue. The actual cause of this genetic change is not yet known. A number of factors, including environmental, genetic, and lifestyle behaviors, may increase the risk of this cancer. The most common risk factor for developing mesothelioma includes working with asbestos. Asbestos is used in construction, automotive, and other industries. Exposure to very small asbestos fibers is the primary risk factor for developing mesothelioma. People working in the asbestos industry are thus more prone to developing this cancer.
Some other common causes of this cancer include:
- Radiation – Exposure to high doses of radiation, particularly to chest and abdomen, and injections of thorium dioxide is found to result in mesothelioma.
- Simian virus 40 – Infection by SV40 virus also is found to increase the risk of developing this cancer.
- Genetics – Presence of certain genetic factors enhance the risk of mesothelioma.
Symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear for many years. Moreover, the symptoms of this cancer differ based on the organ that it affects. Pleural mesothelioma affects the tissue that surrounds the lungs and is characterized by symptoms like a cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, and weight loss. When cancer affects the tissue lining of the abdomen, pain, and swelling in the abdomen may be noted. In some cases, small lumps may be noted in the abdominal region. Obstruction in bowel movements, anemia and fever may also be seen. In some cases, cancer may spread to other parts of the body. Swelling in the neck and face, pain, and difficulty swallowing may also be noted as symptoms in this case.
Diagnosis of this cancer resembles that of many other common ailments. If any of the above said symptoms persist or become quite bothersome, do not fail to meet the doctor. Treatment for mesothelioma depends on the stage and location of cancer. In many cases, the cancer is diagnosed only when it has reached advanced stages. In such cases, surgery may not be the ideal option for treatment. A complete cure may not be possible when the condition is diagnosed in advanced stages.