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Malignant Mesothelioma

What is malignant mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a tumor that can form on the mesothelium, a lining on the inside of the chest, abdomen and space around the heart. The mesothelium helps protect the body’s organs by making a lubricating fluid that allows the organs to move.

Mesothelioma can be cancerous or noncancerous. If the tumor on the mesothelium is cancerous, it is called malignant mesothelioma. If the tumor on the mesothelium is noncancerous, it is called benign mesothelioma.

There are three main types of mesothelioma:

  1. Pleural mesothelioma forms in the chest. This is the most common form of malignant mesothelioma.
  2. Peritoneal mesothelioma forms in the abdomen. This is the second most common form of malignant mesothelioma.
  3. Pericardial mesothelioma is a very rare tumor that forms in the lining around the heart.

Virtually all cases of malignant mesothelioma are linked to asbestos exposure. Symptoms of the disease typically start to occur 20 to 50 years after exposure. While there are several treatment options available, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy and resection, the disease still has a high mortality rate because it is not usually discovered until late stages when tumors have spread throughout the body.

What is the prognosis of malignant mesothelioma?

Malignant tumors can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. Doctors and scientists theorize that malignant mesothelioma spreads throughout the body more quickly than other types of cancer. In fact, malignant mesothelioma can grow so quickly that it spreads to other parts of the body within a matter of months.

There are three ways that cancer spreads throughout the body:

  1. Cancer invades surrounding tissue
  2. Cancer invades the lymph system and travels through the lymph vessels
  3. Cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through the blood

When cancer cells break away from the primary tumor and travel to other places in the body, a secondary tumor may form elsewhere. This process is called metastasis. The rate of metastasis depends on the type of cells in the primary cancerous tumor.

The three main types of cells associated with malignant mesothelioma include:

  1. Epithelial cells: Organized and structured, these cells have a clearly defined elongated egg shape. Most common in pleural mesothelioma, they account for about 50 to 70 percent of malignant mesothelioma diagnoses. Epithelial cells bundle, or stick together, which slows metastasis, but they also divide faster contributing to faster tumor growth.
  2. Sarcomatoid cells: Random and irregular, these cells are elongated and spindle-shaped. They are the most dangerous of malignant mesothelioma cell types. Because the cells are not bundled, like epithelial cells, they metastasize faster than other mesothelioma cell types.
  3. Biphasic cells: A mix of epithelial and sarcomatoid cells.

Malignant mesothelioma tumors with an epithelial cell makeup have a uniform, ordered structure and, therefore, must spread through the lymph nodes. This makes the tumors less aggressive and slows the spread of disease.

Malignant mesothelioma tumors with a sarcomatoid or biphasic cell makeup are more complex. These cells can spread through the blood, meaning they can spread to other areas of the body more quickly. The quick spread may minimize treatment options and limit a patient’s prognosis.

Where can I learn more about malignant mesothelioma?

  1. Mesothelioma symptoms
  2. Mesothelioma diagnosis
  3. Mesothelioma treatment

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