Mesothelioma is an uncommon type of cancer that attacks the tissue that protects most of the internal organs in the body. This thin covering is called the mesothelium. This type of cancer spreads rapidly and even with treatments, it is impossible to cure.
The most common cause of this form of cancer is due to breathing asbestos into the lungs. The time frame from asbestos exposure to developing the cancer is often 20 to 40 years. Other people who are at risk are those who live with a person who is frequently exposed to asbestos and someone who has an immediate family member that has been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Individuals who have pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the lung tissue, will experience pain when coughing and be short of breath. They may also have pain below their rib cage and notice growths underneath the skin on their upper torso. People who have peritoneal mesothelioma, which develops in the abdomen tissue, may experience stomach pain and swelling, and unusual growths in the abdomen.
Both types of mesothelioma will also cause individuals to lose weight. When the cancer affects the tissues of the heart, which is called pericardial mesothelioma, individuals will have trouble breathing and pains in their chest.
Most of the time, this form of cancer is not detected until the later stages of the disease.
Surgery to remove the cancer is often performed if the cancer is in its beginning stages and has not spread to other parts of the body. If surgery is not an option, mesothelioma cancer patients may choose to have chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Some individuals participate in clinical trials to test new kinds of mesothelioma treatments. These currently include biological therapy, targeted therapy and gene therapy.