Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. The cancer can start in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. Treatment options range from basic chemotherapy to experimental surgeries. Patients who find a team of mesothelioma specialists often have the longest survival times.
What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma, a deadly cancer, has only one known cause: asbestos exposure.
Once inside the body, asbestos fibers get stuck in the linings of major organs. The fibers are microscopic but strong, so they cannot be removed from the body.
Over time, the fibers scar healthy tissue and cause cancerous tumors to develop.
There are three main locations where mesothelioma can form:
Located in the lining of the lungs.
Affecting the lining of the lungs (the pleura), pleural mesothelioma is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. The body tries to rid itself of the fibers, but coughing does not bring up the tiny, needle-like particles. Over time, the asbestos particles cause inflammation in the mesothelium of the lung (called the pleura). The fibers cause healthy cells to mutate into cancer cells.Learn More
Located in the lining of the abdomen.
Occurring in the lining surrounding the abdomen (called the peritoneum), peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common type of mesothelioma. It is caused when asbestos fibers lodge themselves in the abdominal lining, causing it to get inflamed. After several decades of inflammation, cancerous tumors begin to form.Learn More
Located in the lining of the heart.
Affecting the lining of the heart (called the pericardium), pericardial mesothelioma is the rarest form of mesothelioma. Researchers aren’t entirely sure how it develops. One theory is that asbestos fibers travel through the bloodstream and become lodged in the pericardium.Learn More
Asbestos exposure is a proven cause of mesothelioma. An industrial building material used up until the 1980s, asbestos was used in every military branch. Today, many veterans are being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma starts in the lining of vital organs, usually the lungs. These linings are made of mesothelial cells. The American Cancer Society says, “The mesothelium helps protect your organs by making a special lubricating fluid that allows organs to move against each other.”
Mesothelioma causes tumors (clumps of cancer cells) to form within the mesothelium linings. These tumors eventually grow and spread.
In serious cases of mesothelioma, the cancer has spread into the lymphatic system, which is the body’s system responsible for cleaning the blood of harmful substances. If the lymphatic system can no longer protect the body, mesothelioma spreads faster.
There are about 3,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each year. In contrast, there were nearly 230,000 new cases of lung cancer in 2019.
Mesothelioma is often diagnosed late because it’s rare and has vague symptoms. Because it often goes undetected for months or years, mesothelioma has a poor prognosis.
Some people diagnosed with mesothelioma are given a life expectancy of 12-18 months. However, many people outlive their prognosis thanks to good treatment.
Mesothelioma patients are typically male due to asbestos being a substance commonly used in male-dominated industries. Most patients are over 60 years old because it takes decades for the disease to emerge.
Get information on:
- Treatment Options
- Mesothelioma Specialists
- Veterans Benefits
General Facts About Mesothelioma
- Rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos
- Affects the lining of the lung, abdomen or heart
- Most commonly diagnosed in males over the age of 60
- Has a latency period of 20-50 years
- Veterans comprise almost one-third of all mesothelioma cases
- Commonly diagnosed at late, advanced stages
- Specialized treatments include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy
- Mesothelioma specialists are available at select VA hospitals
- Veterans with mesothelioma are entitled to compensation and benefits if they were exposed to asbestos in the military