Pericardial mesothelioma is one of three forms of malignant mesothelioma cancer and accounts for approximately five percent of all mesothelioma cases. Pericardial mesothelioma cancer affects the serous membrane lining that surrounds the heart (pericardium) and has thus far proven incurable.
What Causes Pericardial Mesothelioma Cancer?
The cause of pericardial mesothelioma, as well as the other types of malignant mesothelioma, is exposure to asbestos dust and fibers. A couple of months of exposure to asbestos fibers can potentially lead to the development of pericardial mesothelioma 30- to 50-years after-the-fact. Due to the long latency period of the disease, it is very difficult to diagnose a case of pericardial mesothelioma before the cancer has fully developed and matured. Many mesothelioma sufferers are elderly men aged 60 to 70 because this generation worked with large amounts of asbestos in factories and plants.
How Does Pericardial Mesothelioma Develop?
Asbestos fibers reach the lining of the heart by being inhaled and then becoming lodged in the lungs. From the lungs, they can either move into the lymphatic system where they proceed to the lining of the heart, or they can pass slowly to the lining of the heart over time.
Symptoms of Pericardial Mesothelioma
A number of symptoms are associated with the development of pericardial mesothelioma. However, most of these symptoms are only felt when the cancer has fully matured. Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms include persistent coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and palpitations. Other symptoms typical of all types of mesothelioma include loss of appetite, nausea and weight loss. Those who have these symptoms or know someone who does are encouraged to seek medical help immediately.
Diagnosis of Pericardial Mesothelioma
Pericardial mesothelioma patients are usually given an x-ray or a CT scan to look for evidence of the cancer. Pericardial mesothelioma is most accurately diagnosed following surgical biopsy and an examination of the sectioned tissue. Once a thorough assessment of the situation has been made, the pericardial mesothelioma patient and the doctor can discuss possible treatment options, including whether to attempt to eradicate the pericardial mesothelioma through curative means, or whether to simply focus on the improvement of a patient's quality of life. Things to consider before making any decisions are: a patient's age, condition, the stage to which the pericardial mesothelioma has advanced, and tumor size and location.
Pericardial Mesothelioma Treatment
Although there is currently no cure for pericardial mesothelioma, researchers have developed ways through which to prolong life and improve a patient's comfort level. This is why it is important to diagnose a case of pericardial mesothelioma as soon as possible. Traditional treatment methods include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.
Research into cures for pericardial mesothelioma is ongoing around the world and many pharmaceutical companies are investigating new drugs (Alimta, Onconase and Veglin being three such drugs). Additionally, there are a number of new modalities that are currently being tested:
- Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
- Gene therapy
Mesothelioma researchers remain optimistic that a treatment breakthrough is on the horizon.
Other Types of Malignant Mesothelioma
Peritoneal mesothelioma and pleural mesothelioma are the two other types of malignant mesothelioma. The three mesotheliomas are further typed in accordance with three histological classifications that are based on cellular structures: epitheliod mesothelioma, sarcomatoid mesothelioma or biphasic mesothelioma.
Asbestosis is a non-malignant asbestos-related disease that causes scarring of the lung tissue.
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