What is Malignant Mesothelioma?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2018
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Malignant mesothelioma is a form of cancer that afflicts the delicate lining of important internal structures, especially the lungs. The condition is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos over time, though researchers believe that genetic conditions, family histories of cancer, and other environmental factors can play a role in its development. Individuals with malignant mesothelioma often experience a number of uncomfortable symptoms, such as chest pain, coughing, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Mesothelioma is a very rare form of cancer that is often difficult to diagnose, but a skilled oncologist is able to identify symptoms and design an individualized treatment plan to help a patient cope with his or her condition.

The mesothelium is the thin membrane that surrounds internal organs and body cavities. When mesothelium cells become cancerous, they divide and spread rapidly, destroying healthy mesotheium tissue nearby and eventually affecting the organs they protect. Most cases of malignant mesothelioma are thought to arise from asbestos exposure. The material is not widely used today, though many individuals who spent significant amounts of time working with asbestos in the past and those who lived in homes with asbestos insulation are at the highest risk of developing cancer. The condition can remain benign for a long period of time, and many people do not experience health problems until years after exposure.


An individual with mesothelioma in his or her lungs might suffer from shortness of breath, painful coughing, chest pains, weakness, and fatigue. Abdominal malignant mesothelioma can lead to additional symptoms, such as stomach cramps, intense local pain, swelling, bowel disorders, and a lack of appetite. Many patients can feel small lumps in their chests or abdomens, which are telling signs of developing tumors. A person who believes he or she might have mesothelioma, or anyone who has been exposed to asbestos in the past, should consult an oncologist to can perform a physical examination and take x-rays of a patient's chest and abdomen. When mesothelioma is detected, the oncologist prescribes treatment based on the severity of the cancer and its likelihood of spreading to other parts of the body.

The most common forms of treatment for malignant mesothelioma are surgery and chemotherapy. Surgeons can remove cancerous tissues and fluids that build up as a result of the condition. In the case of severe or spreading mesothelioma, a surgeon may opt to remove an entire lung or other infected organ from the body. Chemotherapy drugs, which are administered to patients to reduce the number of cancerous mesothelium cells in the body, are often helpful in relieving symptoms and preventing further damage.



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