Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Mesothelioma is a cancer that forms in the thin tissue that lines many of your internal organs. This thin tissue is called the mesothelium.
The most common kind of mesothelioma forms in the tissue around the lungs, called the pleura. This is called pleural mesothelioma. But mesothelioma may also form in—
- The tissue in the abdomen, called the peritoneum.
- The tissue around the heart, called the pericardium.
- The tissue around the testicles, called the tunica vaginalis.
What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?
Pleural mesothelioma can cause—
- Pain in your chest, under your rib cage.
- Shortness of breath.
- Lumps under the skin on your chest.
- Weight loss you can’t explain.
Peritoneal mesothelioma can cause—
- A swollen abdomen.
- Pain in your abdomen.
- Weight loss you can’t explain.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer. The only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.
How Is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?
It can be hard to tell the difference between mesothelioma and other cancers. You may need to have a physical exam and other tests, such as imaging tests (a chest X-ray or CT scan) or a biopsy (removing a small piece of tissue to look at under a microscope).
How Is Mesothelioma Treated?
Treatment depends on where the mesothelioma is located and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy.
- Surgery. An operation where doctors cut out cancer tissue.
- Chemotherapy. Special medicines that doctors use to shrink or kill the cancer. They can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
- Radiation therapy. High-energy rays (similar to X-rays) that doctors use to kill the cancer.
- Immunotherapy. Special medicines that doctors use to help your body’s immune system fight the cancer.
- Targeted therapy. Drugs that doctors use to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. They can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins. You will get tests to see if targeted therapy is right for your cancer type before this treatment is used.
New treatments are tested in clinical trials.external icon You may want to ask your doctor if taking part in a clinical trial would be right for you.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
Exposure to asbestos causes most cases of mesothelioma. Asbestos is a group of minerals naturally found in rocks and soil that form long, thin, very strong fibers. Asbestos fibers do not evaporate or dissolve in water. They resist heat and fire and cannot be broken down easily by chemicals or bacteria.
Asbestos was used in many consumer products, automobile parts, and building materials in the 20th century, before scientists learned about its dangers to health. Asbestos is no longer mined in the United States, but it is imported from other countries to make some products. It is still present in some older homes and buildings.
Working with materials that contain asbestos can release tiny asbestos fibers, too small to see, into the air. Some workers and others who breathed in or swallowed asbestos fibers over many years have developed mesothelioma and other diseases. Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos will get mesothelioma or other cancers. If you are concerned, ask your doctor if you should get regular checkups or tests for asbestos-related diseases.
Risk factors for mesothelioma include—
- Being exposed to asbestos at work.
- Living with someone who works with asbestos.
- Living or working in a building where materials that contain asbestos have been disturbed.
- Living in an area with natural asbestos deposits or asbestos mines or factories.
The Data Visualizations tool makes it easy for anyone to explore and use the latest official federal government cancer data from United States Cancer Statistics. It includes the latest cancer data covering the U.S. population.
- Mesotheliomaexternal icon (National Cancer Institute)
- Mesotheliomaexternal icon (American Cancer Society)
- Health Effects of Asbestos (CDC)
- Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality in Women—United States, 1999–2020
- Incidence of Malignant Mesothelioma, 1999–2018