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What is Mesothelioma?

By Prudence Hutt

What is Mesothelioma

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a cancer that develops in the layers of tissue that cover most of our internal body organs (mesothelial cells) and help protect them. There are two types of mesothelioma: When it starts in the layers of tissue that cover each lung (pleural mesothelioma) and the second, less common type, that starts in the layers of tissue in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma).

What are the symptoms?

It can take up to 50 years and more until signs and symptoms appear. In the early stages, there aren’t many either. However, if they do start developing, it is often due to the cancer growing and pressing on a nerve or another body organ.

The symptoms of mesothelioma aren’t very distinctive and could potentially be caused by another illness. But people are advised to go see their doctor if they do occur – especially if they have been exposed to asbestos in the past.

The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, according to the NHS, are:

Chest pain
Shortness of breath
Tiredness (fatigue)
Sweating and high temperatures
A persistent cough
Losing weight when not dieting
Loss of appetite
Difficulty swallowing
A hoarse or husky voice
Some people have changes in the shape of their fingers and nails (called finger clubbing).

The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are:

Pain in the tummy (abdomen)
Swelling in the abdomen
Feeling or being sick
Poor appetite
Losing weight when not dieting
Diarrhoea or constipation

What causes mesothelioma?

Being exposed to asbestos is the most common risk factor for mesothelioma, especially from an early age onwards, for a long period of time. Because asbestos is made up of many small fibres, the inhalation of it can cause serious a number of fatal illnesses – mesothelioma being one of them. Around five times more men than women get mesothelioma.

Diagnosis and treatment

The treatment depends on a variety of factors such as the location of the cancer, the stage (how far it has grown/spread), the type and the patient’s general health. As mesothelioma is often found in an advanced stage, treatment can be difficult. In the early stages of mesothelioma, people often have surgery to remove the tumour and additionally chemotherapy, to help to shrink the cancer and/or radiotherapy to slow down the growth.

As this form of cancer is rare, it is difficult to collect data to determine the mesothelioma survival by stage.