Mesothelioma affects a specific tissue found in the body called the mesothelium. The mesothelium occurs in the three largest body cavities which house the lungs, organs of the abdominal region, and the heart. These cavities are known as the pleura, peritoneum, and pericardium respectively. The mesothelium is a specialized tissue whose main function is to provide lubricating protection that promotes healthy functioning of the body’s vital organs.
Microscopic asbestos fibers are able to pass through many of the body’s tissues due to their tiny size and unique shape, but they can easily become entrapped in the closely knit, sticky tissue of the mesothelium. The swelling and abnormal growth development which are caused by asbestos contamination of the mesothelium can apply agonizing pressure to the body’s sensitive organs. These cancerous growths can become large enough to affect an organ’s ability to behave normally or they can spread to the organ itself causing organ failure.
There are three types of mesothelioma identified by their location in the body.
Pleural mesothelioma affects mesothelial tissues in the cavity surrounding the lungs known as the pleura. This form of the disease can cause swelling and fluid accumulation in the pleura which crowd the lungs and make it more difficult for them to fully expand. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the cancer and is associated with exposure to air that is contaminated with asbestos fibers. Its advanced stages can cause lung failure or a rapid spreading of the cancer to other parts of the body. Symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
- Chronic coughing
- Weakness or fatigue
Learn more about pleural mesothelioma.
Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the abdominal cavity, or peritoneum, where it causes various problems with the digestive tract as well severe pains caused by fluid buildup. The accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal space can obstruct the bowels as well as cause detectable swelling and discomfort. Peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for less than a quarter of all mesothelioma cases. It is often associated with the accidental ingestion of airborne asbestos that becomes trapped in the esophagus during breathing before being swallowed. Symptoms may include:
- Sharp abdominal pains
- Swelling and discomfort in the abdomen
- Blood clotting issues
- Bowel obstruction
- Weight loss
Learn more about peritoneal mesothelioma.
Pericardial mesothelioma affects the mesothelial tissues in the pericardium, or heart cavity. As the least common type of mesothelioma, this form of the disease accounts for only a tiny fraction of those dealing with the cancer. It is normally associated with late stages of the illness in which malignant cells have spread throughout the body. Pericardial mesothelioma is most frequently a result of a migration or spread of cancerous cells as asbestos fibers and other carcinogens have no direct access to the pericardium. Symptoms may include:
- Severe chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Abnormal breathing patterns
- Chronic coughing
Learn more about pericardial mesothelioma.