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Malignant mesothelioma

Definition

Malignant mesothelioma is an uncommon cancerous tumor. It mainly affects the lining of the lung and chest cavity (pleura) or lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). It is due to long-term asbestos exposure.

Alternative Names

Mesothelioma - malignant; Malignant pleura mesothelioma (MPM)

Causes

Long-term exposure to asbestos is the biggest risk factor. Asbestos is a fire-resistant material. It was once commonly found in insulation, ceiling and roofing vinyls, cement, and car brakes. Even though many asbestos workers smoked, experts do not believe smoking itself is a cause of this condition.

Men are affected more often than women. The average age at diagnosis is 60 years. Most people seem to develop the condition about 30 years after being in contact with the asbestos.

Symptoms

Symptoms may not appear until 20 to 40 years or longer after exposure to asbestos, and may include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will do an examination and ask the person about their symptoms and medical history. Tests that may be done include:

Mesothelioma is often hard to diagnose. Under the microscope, it can be hard to tell this disease apart from similar conditions and tumors.

Treatment

Malignant mesothelioma is a difficult cancer to treat.

There is usually no cure, unless the disease is found very early and the tumor can be completely removed with surgery. Most of the time, when the disease is diagnosed, it is too advanced for surgery. Chemotherapy or radiation may be used to reduce symptoms. Combining certain chemotherapy drugs may help decrease symptoms, but it will not cure the cancer.

Untreated, most people survive about 9 months.

Participating in a clinical trial (test of new treatments), may give the person more treatment options.

Pain relief, oxygen, and other supportive treatments may also help relieve symptoms.

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The average survival time varies from 4 to 18 months. Outlook depends on:

  • The stage of the tumor
  • The person's age and general health
  • Whether surgery is an option
  • The person's response to treatment

Possible Complications

Complications of malignant mesothelioma may include:

  • Side effects of chemotherapy or radiation
  • Continued spread of cancer to other organs

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if you have symptoms of malignant mesothelioma.

Prevention

Avoid exposure to asbestos.

References

Broaddus VC, Robinson BWS. Pleural tumors. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 82.

National Cancer Institute. PDQ malignant mesothelioma treatment. Updated August 5, 2015. www.cancer.gov/types/mesothelioma/hp/mesothelioma-treatment-pdq#section/29. Accessed July 8, 2016.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology (NCCN guidelines): malignant pleural mesothelioma. Updated June 22, 2016. Version 3. 2016. www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/mpm.pdf. Accessed July 8, 2016.


Review Date: 5/20/2016
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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