Mesothelioma, also sometimes called “malignant mesothelioma”? or “epithelial mesothelioma,”? is a rare cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs. Malignant mesothelioma occurs when mesothelium cells become cancerous and divide without control or order. These malignant cells can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Malignant cells can also metastasize (spread) from their original site to other body parts.

There are three different malignant mesothelioma types and each is named after the part of the mesothelium it affects. First, mesothelioma that occurs in the tissue that surrounds the lung (pleura) is called pleural mesothelioma. Second, mesothelioma that occurs in the abdominal tissue (peritoneum) is called peritoneal mesothelioma. Finally, the rarest mesothelioma is that which occurs in the lining around the heart (pericardium). This is called pericardial mesothelioma. 

Although reported incidence rates have increased in the past 20 years, malignant mesothelioma is still a relatively rare cancer. In the United States, about 2,000 new mesothelioma cases are diagnosed each year. Malignant mesothelioma occurs more often in men than in women and risk increases with age, but this disease can appear in either men or women at any age.

What Causes Malignant Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma is usually caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral with long, thin, separable fibers that possess valuable heat-resistant properties. Unfortunately, those fibers are also dangerous when inhaled. People who are exposed to asbestos at work are most at risk for developing malignant mesothelioma.

Generally, malignant mesothelioma develops 20 to 50 years after a person is initially exposed to asbestos. The risk of developing malignant mesothelioma increases with heavier exposure to asbestos and longer exposure time. However, several malignant mesothelioma cases have been reported where there was very little asbestos exposure or no known asbestos exposure at all.

Malignant Mesothelioma Prognosis

Unfortunately, malignant mesothelioma is a very serious condition and does not have a good outlook. One study suggests that about 10% of all people diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma will survive for three years. However, mesothelioma survival rate statistics are generally unreliable.

Typically, the cancer stage is the most important variable determining the prognosis and life expectancy of a malignant mesothelioma patient. However, mesothelioma is more difficult to “stage” than other cancers because malignant mesothelioma is somewhat rare. In addition, since initial symptoms are subtle, malignant mesothelioma is usually advanced when diagnosed.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, you may have a legal claim. Contact us today.

Published November 17, 2011 by