Malignant Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare and fatal form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. It is a condition that has a long latency period, meaning that it generally does not begin to show symptoms until many years after the exposure takes place. Once the symptoms do become apparent the condition generally progresses quickly, debilitating its victim and claiming their lives in a painfully short period of time.

Mesothelioma can appear in several different areas of the body, including the cavity that holds the lungs; the cavity that holds the abdominal organs; and the cavity that holds the heart. This particular form of cancer impacts the mesothelium, a membrane that lines those body cavities, allowing organs within to move freely without adhering to each other and facilitating the flow of fluid throughout the area.

Mesothelioma’s exact origins within the body are still something of a mystery, but it is thought to begin when asbestos fibers become embedded in the cells of the mesothelium, either through inhaling them or swallowing them. These microscopic fibers are needle-shaped, with sharp ends that easily become embedded in the mesothelial cells. They cause the cells to die and eventually lead to inflammation and mutations in the surrounding cells that then grow into mesothelioma’s tumors.

The different types of mesothelioma include:

  • Pleural Mesothelioma – Pleural mesothelioma forms in the cavity that holds the lungs, and represents roughly 75% of all cases.
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma – Peritoneal mesothelioma forms in the cavity that holds the abdominal organs, and represents roughly 10 to 20% of all cases.
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma – Pericardial mesothelioma forms in the cavity that holds the heart, and represents roughly 1% of all cases.
  • Testicular Mesothelioma – Testicular mesothelioma forms in the cavity that holds the testes, and represents less than 1% of all cases.

In addition to different locations in the body, mesothelioma manifests in different types of cells. These include:

  • Epithelial cells
  • Sarcomatoid cells
  • Biphasic cells

Each of these types of mesothelioma cells respond differently to different types of treatment, with epithelial cells showing the greatest success and sarcomatoid cells proving to be the most challenging to treat.

The outlook for patients diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma is grim. Though much depends on the patient’s condition at the time of their diagnosis, the type of mesothelioma they are diagnosed with and the degree to which the disease has progressed in the body, most patients do not live beyond 12 and 21 months, though a small percentage live a period of five years, or even more.

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