At a Glance: Peritoneal Mesothelioma

[Part Two]

This profile of peritoneal mesothelioma is the second in a two-part series exploring the basics of the disease’s two most common varieties; thousands of people in the U.S. and many more around the world have been diagnosed with mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos, and that number grows annually.

Pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma are the two most often diagnosed forms of a rare and terminal cancer that is known to be caused primarily by exposure to asbestos. The second type affects the peritoneum—a thin lining that protects the abdominal cavity—and accounts for only about 30% of all diagnosed mesothelioma cases.

The number one cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, an all-natural silicate mineral that could be found in a wide variety of consumer goods throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries. The most common uses for asbestos were in manufacturing building materials and auto parts, but even household products like cosmetics and crayons frequently listed it as an ingredient.

Eventually found to cause asbestosis and mesothelioma, among other cancers, the use of asbestos was officially banned in 1989. This action by the Environmental Protection Agency did not come in time, however, to spare millions of people from developing peritoneal and pleural mesothelioma. Both usually take several decades to appear, meaning that new cases of the disease continue to crop up in the thousands every year.

Symptoms. Many of the symptoms associated with peritoneal mesothelioma are concentrated primarily in the abdominal region. Those include pain and swelling, obstruction of the bowels, nausea and indigestion. Other symptoms that may appear are fever, weight loss and chronic fatigue. Anyone who experiences these symptoms and has knowingly been exposed to asbestos should see a doctor for further investigation.

Diagnosis. A diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer is made only after a biopsy confirms the presence of cancerous cells within the affected tissue. This requires a sample from the peritoneum, usually collected either through a very long needle or during a specialized procedure called a peritoneoscopy.

Stages. Peritoneal mesothelioma has no designated staging system, though the TNM stages—which are standard for most types of cancer—may be used.

Treatment. Chemotherapy is often the treatment of choice for many different types of cancer, mesothelioma included. Surgery to remove the tumor and/or part of the organ it has invaded is another option. Radiation may also be used to kill cancerous cells. And sometimes, two or more of these methods are utilized together.

Prognosis. There is no cure for mesothelioma. Although successful intervention—through the treatment methods listed above—may improve a person’s prognosis, there is no proven way of eliminating the cancer from the body. The age of the patient, his or her general health and the state of advancement the cancer is in when treatment commences all have a bearing on doctors’ predictions for how long a patient will live. Both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma are the subjects of much medical research, however; and with that, the life expectancies for its victims could change in the relatively near future.