What is Mesothelioma?
(Updated May 2017)


Mesothelioma is a dangerous cancer with high fatality rates that affects the lining of the lungs. Getting a correct mesothelioma diagnosis can be difficult because many mesothelioma symptoms can be confused with other illnesses or other cancers.

Early warning signs and symptoms, including persistent coughing, night sweats, or fever are frequently misdiagnosed as pneumonia or influenza. Mesothelioma cancers progress rapidly and they are particularly dangerous because they have a long latency period and can lie dormant for up to 50 years. 

Decades of research and clinical studies have demonstrated that asbestos exposure is the most frequent cause of mesothelioma cancers. Asbestos fibers have also been shown to cause lung cancer, asbestosis and other lung-related illnesses. When airborne asbestos fibers are inhaled or swallowed, they can become lodged in the soft tissues of the lungs or abdomen. 

Are There Different Types of Mesothelioma? Yes.

There are three main types of malignant mesothelioma: pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma and pericardial mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of this cancer, which develops in the lining of the lungs. Although lung cancer has other contributing causes, pleural mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos.

Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. Pleural mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops in the outer lining of the lung and chest cavity, known as the "pleura". There are two layers of tissues that make up the pleura, and mesothelioma is known to affect both. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of mesothelioma accounting for approximately 70%-90% of all mesothelioma diagnoses.          

It can be difficult to diagnose mesothelioma because many of the mesothelioma symptoms are similar to those of a number of other conditions, including lung cancer, viral pneumonia, stomach cancer and heart disease. Although mesothelioma is considered a rare cancer, approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed each year in the United States alone.

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms:

  • Consistent fatigue
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fever
  • General feelings of ill well-being
  • Night sweats
  • Pain in the lower back or chest
  • Persistent coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Occasionally, a patient may not present any symptoms at time of diagnosis

Anyone who is concerned about possibly contracting mesothelioma needs to consult a mesothelioma doctor as quickly as possible. Early warning signs, when taken seriously, allow patients to rapidly obtain a mesothelioma diagnosis.

When mesothelioma is not diagnosed early enough, it can lead to the spread of the cancer; delayed diagnoses sometimes lead to mesothelioma being spread throughout the entire body, which makes treatment more difficult. 

Additionally, because of the long latency period between exposure and the development of symptoms, it is often difficult to pinpoint the exact source of an individual's exposure.

Symptoms and Risk Factors With Mesothelioma Doctor Nicholas Vogelzang

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common form of mesothelioma and begins in the peritoneum. Peritoneal mesothelioma also referred to as “abdominal mesothelioma” is a rare form of cancer that develops in the serous membrane of the abdominal wall lining, known as the peritoneum. This form of mesothelioma tends to develop from inhaling and swallowing asbestos fibers. It is also possible that asbestos fibers can reach the peritoneum through the lymphatic system once inhaled. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common form of mesothelioma, accounting for approximately 10%-20% of all mesothelioma diagnoses.

peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms:

  • Abdominal swelling or mass within the abdomen
  • Abdominal pain which may be due to ascites (an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity)
  • Anemia (lowered red blood cell count)
  • Blood clotting abnormalities
  • Changes in bowel activity such as an obstruction or constipation
  • Feeling of fatigue or nausea
  • Fever
  • Unexpected weight loss

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma is the rarest form of mesothelioma, accounting for less than 5% of all mesothelioma diagnoses. Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the thin sac that surrounds the heart known as the pericardium. The pericardium is made up of two layers of membrane and this cancer can arise when an asbestos fiber becomes lodged in this membrane. 

pericardial mesothelioma symptom:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath