Malignant mesothelioma is an uncommon cancerous tumor. It mainly affects the lining of the lung and chest cavity (pleura) or lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). It is due to long-term asbestos exposure.
Long-term exposure to asbestos is the biggest risk factor. Asbestos is a fire-resistant material. It was once commonly found in insulation, ceiling and roofing vinyls, cement, and car brakes. Even though many asbestos workers smoked, experts do not believe smoking itself is a cause of this condition.
Older veterans make up 30% of the cases of mesothelioma due to exposure in the military ship, vehicle, and plane industry.
Men are affected more often than women. The average age at diagnosis is 60 years. Most people seem to develop the condition about 30 years after being in contact with the asbestos.
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will do an examination and ask the person about their symptoms and medical history. Tests that may be done include:
Mesothelioma is often hard to diagnose. Under the microscope, it can be hard to tell this disease apart from similar conditions and tumors.
Malignant mesothelioma is a difficult cancer to treat.
There is usually no cure, unless the disease is found very early and the tumor can be completely removed with surgery. Most of the time, when the disease is diagnosed, it is too advanced for surgery. Chemotherapy or radiation may be used to reduce symptoms. Combining certain chemotherapy drugs may help decrease symptoms, but it will not cure the cancer.
Untreated, most people survive about 9 months.
Participating in a clinical trial (test of new treatments), may give the person more treatment options.
Pain relief, oxygen, and other supportive treatments may also help relieve symptoms.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.
The survival time varies greatly from several months to several years. Outlook depends on:
- The location of the mesothelioma
- The cell type of the mesothelioma
- The stage of the tumor
- The person's age and general health
- Whether surgery is an option
- The person's response to treatment
You and your family may want to start thinking about end-of-life planning, such as:
Complications of malignant mesothelioma may include:
- Side effects of chemotherapy or radiation
- Continued spread of cancer to other organs
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your provider if you have symptoms of malignant mesothelioma.
Avoid exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma - malignant; Malignant pleura mesothelioma (MPM)
Baas P, Hassan R, Nowak AK, Rice D. Malignant mesothelioma. In: Pass HI, Ball D, Scagliotti GV, eds. IASLC Thoracic Oncology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 53.
Davies HE, Sterman D, Gary Lee YC. Pleural malignancy. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 114.
McCool FD. Diseases of the diaphragm, chest wall, pleura, and mediastinum. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 92.
National Cancer Institute website. Malignant mesothelioma treatment (adult) (PDQ) -- Health professional version. www.cancer.gov/types/mesothelioma/hp/mesothelioma-treatment-pdq. Updated January 14, 2022. Accessed June 24, 2022.
Review Date 4/29/2022
Updated by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.