Malignant Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers certain internal organs of the body. This is an aggressive and deadly form of cancer. Treatments are available, but for many people there is no cure.

Malignant mesotheliomas can start in four main parts of the body:

  • Pleural mesotheliomas start in the chest and are most common.
  • Peritoneal mesotheliomas start in the lining of the abdomen. 
  • Pericardial mesotheliomas start in the lining of the heart cavity.
  • Mesotheliomas of the tunica vaginalis start in the covering of the testicles.

Malignant mesotheliomas are also classified by type, depending on how the cancer cells are arranged:

  • About half of mesotheliomas are epithelioid. This type tends to have a better outlook than the other types.
  • About 10 percent of mesotheliomas are sarcomatoid. This is the most difficult to treat.
  • The remaining are mixed - they have both epithelioid and sarcomatoid areas. 

Treatment

In most cases, treatments may help reduce symptoms and improve survival odds but will not cure the cancer. Most patients are treated with chemotherapy.

Malignant mesothelioma is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage when it isn’t possible to remove the cancer through surgery. In some cases when patients are diagnosed at an early stage, they can be treated with surgery and radiation.

Care Team

You may see one or more of the following specialists for your cancer treatment.
Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Rebecca Bascom, MD, MPH Rebecca Bascom, MD, MPH Pulmonologist View Researcher Profile
Chandra Belani, MD Chandra Belani, MD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Rickhesvar Mahraj, MD, FRCP, FRCR Rickhesvar Mahraj, MD, FRCP, FRCR Radiologist View Researcher Profile
Michael F. Reed, MD Michael F. Reed, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Marc Rovito, MD Marc Rovito, MD Hematologist/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Matthew D. Taylor, MD Matthew D. Taylor, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Jennifer Toth, MD Jennifer Toth, MD Interventional Pulmonologist View Researcher Profile
Leonard Tuanquin, MD Leonard Tuanquin, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Henry Wagner Jr., MD Henry Wagner Jr., MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Nicholas Zaorsky, MD Nicholas Zaorsky, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile

Locations

Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585

Clinical Trials

Groups, Classes and Support

Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

Prevention and Screening

There is no way to completely prevent malignant mesothelioma. But reducing your exposure to asbestos may lower your risk. 

At Work

Most people with mesothelioma were exposed to the asbestos fibers at work. Workers who may encounter asbestos fibers include:

  • Miners
  • Factory workers
  • Insulation manufacturers
  • Ship builders
  • Construction workers
  • Auto mechanics

Ask your employer whether you have a risk of asbestos exposure on the job. Follow safety precautions, such as wearing special equipment and changing clothes and showering after work.

At Home

Older homes and buildings may contain asbestos. In many cases, it’s more dangerous to remove asbestos than to leave it. That‘s because breaking up asbestos may release fibers into the air where they can be inhaled. If your home has asbestos, have an expert test the air to determine if it is a health risk. If the asbestos has to be removed, hire a specially-trained expert. 

For more information, check the Environmental Protection Agency.

Screening

Malignant mesothelioma cancer is rare, and there are no widely recommended screening tests.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Malignant mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers certain internal organs of the body.

Symptoms

It can take 20 to 50 years for symptoms of mesothelioma to develop after first exposure to asbestos. Symptoms of malignant mesothelioma vary depending on where the cancer occurs. 

Signs of pleural mesothelioma, which affects the tissue in the chest and lungs:

  • Chest pain under rib cage
  • Painful coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Unusual lumps under chest

Signs of peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the abdomen: 

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lumps in abdomen
  • Weight loss

Signs of pericardial mesothelioma, which affect the heart:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Chest pain

Symptoms of tunica vaginalis, which affects the testicles:

  • Swelling or mass on a testicle

Diagnosis

Because mesothelioma is so rare, your doctor will first test to see if another more common disease is causing your symptoms. As part of your medical history, your doctor will ask if you have ever been exposed to asbestos. 

The following are also used to help diagnose mesothelioma:

  • Imaging, such as X-rays to look for fluid in the lungs or CT scan to look for tumors. MRI and PET scans can help diagnose metastasis (spreading) of the mesothelioma.
  • Blood tests to look for substances in the blood that can indicate mesothelioma cancer cells.
  • Biopsy, which tests a sample of your affected tissue, to positively confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Malignant Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers certain internal organs of the body. This is an aggressive and deadly form of cancer. Treatments are available, but for many people there is no cure.

Malignant mesotheliomas can start in four main parts of the body:

  • Pleural mesotheliomas start in the chest and are most common.
  • Peritoneal mesotheliomas start in the lining of the abdomen. 
  • Pericardial mesotheliomas start in the lining of the heart cavity.
  • Mesotheliomas of the tunica vaginalis start in the covering of the testicles.

Malignant mesotheliomas are also classified by type, depending on how the cancer cells are arranged:

  • About half of mesotheliomas are epithelioid. This type tends to have a better outlook than the other types.
  • About 10 percent of mesotheliomas are sarcomatoid. This is the most difficult to treat.
  • The remaining are mixed - they have both epithelioid and sarcomatoid areas. 

In most cases, treatments may help reduce symptoms and improve survival odds but will not cure the cancer. Most patients are treated with chemotherapy.

Malignant mesothelioma is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage when it isn’t possible to remove the cancer through surgery. In some cases when patients are diagnosed at an early stage, they can be treated with surgery and radiation.

You may see one or more of the following specialists for your cancer treatment.
Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Rebecca Bascom, MD, MPH Rebecca Bascom, MD, MPH Pulmonologist View Researcher Profile
Chandra Belani, MD Chandra Belani, MD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Rickhesvar Mahraj, MD, FRCP, FRCR Rickhesvar Mahraj, MD, FRCP, FRCR Radiologist View Researcher Profile
Michael F. Reed, MD Michael F. Reed, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Marc Rovito, MD Marc Rovito, MD Hematologist/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Matthew D. Taylor, MD Matthew D. Taylor, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Jennifer Toth, MD Jennifer Toth, MD Interventional Pulmonologist View Researcher Profile
Leonard Tuanquin, MD Leonard Tuanquin, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Henry Wagner Jr., MD Henry Wagner Jr., MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Nicholas Zaorsky, MD Nicholas Zaorsky, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585
Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

There is no way to completely prevent malignant mesothelioma. But reducing your exposure to asbestos may lower your risk. 

At Work

Most people with mesothelioma were exposed to the asbestos fibers at work. Workers who may encounter asbestos fibers include:

  • Miners
  • Factory workers
  • Insulation manufacturers
  • Ship builders
  • Construction workers
  • Auto mechanics

Ask your employer whether you have a risk of asbestos exposure on the job. Follow safety precautions, such as wearing special equipment and changing clothes and showering after work.

At Home

Older homes and buildings may contain asbestos. In many cases, it’s more dangerous to remove asbestos than to leave it. That‘s because breaking up asbestos may release fibers into the air where they can be inhaled. If your home has asbestos, have an expert test the air to determine if it is a health risk. If the asbestos has to be removed, hire a specially-trained expert. 

For more information, check the Environmental Protection Agency.

Screening

Malignant mesothelioma cancer is rare, and there are no widely recommended screening tests.

Malignant mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers certain internal organs of the body.

Symptoms

It can take 20 to 50 years for symptoms of mesothelioma to develop after first exposure to asbestos. Symptoms of malignant mesothelioma vary depending on where the cancer occurs. 

Signs of pleural mesothelioma, which affects the tissue in the chest and lungs:

  • Chest pain under rib cage
  • Painful coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Unusual lumps under chest

Signs of peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the abdomen: 

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lumps in abdomen
  • Weight loss

Signs of pericardial mesothelioma, which affect the heart:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Chest pain

Symptoms of tunica vaginalis, which affects the testicles:

  • Swelling or mass on a testicle

Diagnosis

Because mesothelioma is so rare, your doctor will first test to see if another more common disease is causing your symptoms. As part of your medical history, your doctor will ask if you have ever been exposed to asbestos. 

The following are also used to help diagnose mesothelioma:

  • Imaging, such as X-rays to look for fluid in the lungs or CT scan to look for tumors. MRI and PET scans can help diagnose metastasis (spreading) of the mesothelioma.
  • Blood tests to look for substances in the blood that can indicate mesothelioma cancer cells.
  • Biopsy, which tests a sample of your affected tissue, to positively confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.