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Malignant Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelium, which is the lining that protects vital organs of the body. The cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, hence the common nickname of 'asbestos cancer.' The likelihood of developing malignant mesothelioma increases with repeated exposure; workers at companies that use or have used asbestos in manufacturing and workers exposed to dust from construction activities are particularly at risk. Family members of exposed workers have also contracted malignant mesothelioma from household exposure to the fibers brought home on workers’ clothes, hair and vehicles.

Once asbestos is inhaled or ingested, its sharp fibers can lodge in the mesothelium, and decades later develop into tumors. The exact process that causes malignant mesothelioma is unclear, but doctors believe that over the course of decades after exposure, the embedded asbestos fibers cause irritation and scarring. This leads to inflammation and genetic abnormalities in those cells, which eventually become cancerous.

A diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma is very serious. Most cases are fatal within two years, although recent improvements in treatment, both chemotherapy and surgical treatment, have extended the survival times of many mesothelioma patients.

Types of Malignant Mesothelioma


Pleural Mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs, called the pleura, after asbestos fibers are inhaled. It is the most common form of malignant mesothelioma, accounting for about 70% of all cases. The main symptom of pleural mesothelioma is difficulty breathing, so it is often misdiagnosed as pneumonia, especially if the physician treating the individual does not know that the individual may have had prior exposure to asbestos.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma the second most common form of malignant mesothelioma, occurs in the peritoneum, the lining which supports and protects the organs in the abdomen. Symptoms include abdominal bloating, nausea, stomach pain, and gastrointestinal distress; these common symptoms may delay diagnosis. Since it infects the membrane covering most internal organs, peritoneal mesothelioma can spread quickly. 

Pericardial Mesothelioma is an even more rare type of malignant mesothelioma, thought to affect 1 to 6% of mesothelioma patients. Pericardial mesothelioma may develop when asbestos fibers are inhaled then travel through the bloodstream to the pericardium, the lining that envelopes the heart. This makes common treatment options difficult; frequently, the best recommendation for pericardial mesothelioma is palliative care. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations, and/or coughing.

Testicular Mesothelioma / Mesothelioma of the Tunica Vaginalis Testis is the rarest type of malignant mesothelioma,  accounting for less than 1% of all documented cases. Although the majority of mesothelioma tumors are found in the pleura, peritoneum and less frequently in the pericardium, the tunica vaginalis is a layer of the reflected peritoneum, and therefore testicular mesothelioma can occur in the scrotal sac.

Causes of Malignant Mesothelioma

The only known cause of malignant mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a mineral commonly incorporated in insulating and fire retardant materials. Asbestos was widely used in manufacturing and construction through the mid–1970s. Its use continued in asbestos cement products, automotive brakes and gaskets into the 1990s.

Asbestos exposure has been known to cause disease for over a century, but there was no action to limit exposure in the U.S. until the 1970s. With exceptions, asbestos still poses a risk as it is found in thousands of manufacturing products that historically contained asbestos, though so-called “new uses” of asbestos in products are banned. Because of this, certain workers may still be exposed to asbestos, and those who work in construction, particularly demolition and renovation, may also be exposed.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Malignant Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is devastating. The average life expectancy of a person diagnosed with mesothelioma is less than two years. Since mesothelioma is rare and symptoms can be frequently mistaken for other more common conditions, those suffering from malignant mesothelioma frequently are not diagnosed until the later stages of the disease. Standard methods of diagnosing malignant mesothelioma are by X-rays and CT scans, usually followed by a biopsy for confirmation.

There is no cure for malignant mesothelioma. Late detection of the disease can limit treatment options, though malignant mesothelioma is generally responsive to life-extending treatment when caught early. Mesothelioma treatments available include localized surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and experimental treatments that may improve quality of life and extend survival times.

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, it’s important to plan for medical care and the care of the victims' loved ones. Please contact one of our mesothelioma attorneys at (800)440-4262 for a free consultation of your options.