Peritoneal mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It affects the protective lining that covers the abdominal organs, called the peritoneum. Peritoneal mesothelioma causes painful abdominal and digestive symptoms, and there is no known cure. However, experts believe that with ongoing advancements in treatment technology, peritoneal mesothelioma will eventually be regarded as a chronic disease that requires ongoing management, rather than a definitely fatal condition.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Overview
All peritoneal mesothelioma patients should be aware of the following facts about this disease:
- Accounts for 20% of mesothelioma cases
- Considered the most treatable form of mesothelioma
- Currently, no staging system in place for peritoneal mesothelioma like there is with pleural mesothelioma
- Primary treatment is cytoreduction with HIPEC (heated chemotherapy)
- The world’s top peritoneal mesothelioma specialists are available to help you now
What Is Peritoneal Mesothelioma?
Peritoneal mesothelioma is a rare cancer that develops in the tissue lining that covers and protects abdomen (peritoneum). The peritoneum covers all abdominal organs, including the stomach and the small and large intestines. Peritoneal mesothelioma is triggered after someone ingests asbestos fibers into their digestive system. With a long latency period, many people aren’t diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma until 10-50 years after they were exposed to asbestos.
The median life expectancy of peritoneal mesothelioma patients is 12-21 months. However, a specific treatment called cytoreductive surgery with HIPEC has shown a 5-year survival rate in 50% of patients who undergo this procedure. Treatments for peritoneal mesothelioma are felt to be highly effective when patients undergo them early enough.
What Causes Peritoneal Mesothelioma?
Peritoneal mesothelioma has only one known cause—asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a well-known industrial material mined from the ground. Used abundantly in construction and other industrial projects throughout the 20th century, asbestos is a dangerous toxic substance classified as a known human carcinogen. It was used because of its fire, heat, chemical and water resistance and because it’s a natural insulator. It was also incredibly cheap to produce asbestos-containing products, making highly profitable products to sell.
Despite being very aware of its dangers, negligent and unethical manufacturers continued to use asbestos and put their workers’ lives in jeopardy. Many tradespeople were exposed to asbestos throughout their careers, including:
- Drywall installers
- Military veterans
Depending on your job role, you may have been exposed to asbestos on a daily basis through direct contact.
Asbestos dangers are due to its composition. Naturally fibrous, asbestos is composed of millions of microscopic particles that are durable and virtually indestructible. When disturbed, asbestos particles become airborne, and they eventually settle onto nearby surfaces, including workers’ lunch bags and water sources. By drinking or eating asbestos-contaminated food or water, workers would unknowingly ingest these deadly fibers.
How Asbestos Leads to Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Once asbestos fibers are ingested, they make their way into the digestive tract where they get stuck in the peritoneum. Over time, asbestos fibers sink themselves further and further into these vulnerable tissues, where they become stuck and unable to be expelled. Healthy tissues then become irritated and inflamed by the asbestos fibers, which can trigger cellular mutations that cause healthy cells to divide and grow at abnormal rates.
Cancer is unchecked cell growth that eventually leads to masses of unhealthy cells called tumors. As tumors build up in the peritoneum, they cause damage to the abdominal organs and prevent them from working properly. Left untreated, mesothelioma will become fatal because the body’s immune system can no longer keep up its fight against amassing tumors. However, with targeted treatment, doctors can slow down the mesothelioma growth and control its spread. This can add months to a patient’s life and can even put the patient into full or partial remission.
Peritoneal mesothelioma has a delayed onset of symptoms, which makes it difficult to detect. Because it affects the abdomen, peritoneal mesothelioma signs and symptoms are typically related to the digestive system. As tumors grow, they cause pressure in the peritoneum, which leads to swelling and fluid buildup.
If you’ve had a history of asbestos exposure, then it’s important to be aware of the following initial symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
- Gas and cramping
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
As the disease progresses, you may develop more severe and continued peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms like:
- Blood clots
- Fever and sweating
- Lumps of tissue under the skin around the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
In the beginning stages, symptoms start out vague and can easily be confused with digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease. Most general practitioners don’t have any experience dealing with mesothelioma, so they can easily misdiagnose your condition. Be sure to disclose any history you may have of working around asbestos and always seek a second opinion from another specialist.
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Life-saving peritoneal mesothelioma treatments are available to patients at specialized cancer clinics across the country. Treatments for peritoneal mesothelioma can be highly effective for the right candidate. However, treatment options depend on what stage you’ve been diagnosed at.
In general, specialists use a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery in a multimodal treatment approach. The goal is to shrink and remove tumors and prevent the mesothelioma from spreading to distant sites.
Today, it’s widely recognized that peritoneal mesothelioma is the easiest form of mesothelioma to treat. Many experts now view peritoneal mesothelioma as a chronic disease that, after initial aggressive treatment, requires ongoing management much like how diabetes is managed.
The primary curative surgery for resectable (when the cancer is removable) peritoneal mesothelioma is called cytoreduction surgery. Its referred to as a curative surgery because it’s such an effective procedure that it has the chance of removing peritoneal tumors to the point where the disease is no longer detectable.
Cytoreduction—or “debulking”—surgery involves removing as much of the tumor as possible from the peritoneum. Depending on the case, surgeons may also remove some organs or parts of organs to prevent disease spread.
As a complicated surgery, the procedure can take up to 10 hours to complete. It’s typically preceded and followed up with radiation and/or chemotherapy to ensure that any mesothelioma cells left over after surgery are destroyed.
Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC)
HIPEC is a critical form of treatment for advanced abdominal cancers like peritoneal mesothelioma. It involves administering highly concentrated levels of chemotherapy drugs that have been heated to around 107 degrees directly into the abdomen right after surgery. This allows the surgeon to bathe the entire abdominal cavity and all its organs in chemotherapy drugs, rather than have them flow through the bloodstream.
HIPEC is used after surgery to kill off remaining microscopic mesothelioma cells that the surgeon potentially missed. While many doctors feel that chemotherapy could be administered traditionally (either orally or intravenously) post-surgery, proponents of HIPEC feel their approach leads to longer-term survival. The theory with HIPEC is that direct chemotherapy administration is much more effective than oral or intravenous administration.
By combining cytoreduction surgery with HIPEC—an approach called the “Sugarbaker Technique”— surgeons have been able to greatly improve survival rates. Today, patients who receive cytoreduction surgery with HIPEC can live an average of 5 years as opposed to those who don’t receive the treatment and have a life expectancy of 1 year.
Specialists may also provide radiation therapy to patients with peritoneal mesothelioma. Using high-energy rays, radiologists can directly and accurately target a tumor site. The powerful radiation interferes with the mesothelioma cells’ DNA so they can no longer reproduce. The benefit of radiation therapy is that it can target and destroy cancer cells so accurately that it does little to no damage to surrounding healthy tissues.
When to use radiation therapy is ultimately determined on a case by case basis as some patients may not benefit from this type of treatment. A common practice with radiation therapy is to administer it prior to surgery to help shrink tumors in size so that they become easier to remove during the operation (neoadjuvant therapy). Another approach is to also use radiation therapy after surgery to target any remaining cancer cells (adjuvant therapy).
Get in Touch With a Peritoneal Mesothelioma Specialist
All patients diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma must seek treatment from a specialist. Peritoneal mesothelioma is a very rare and complex cancer form that requires an accurate diagnosis before a patient can be put on the correct treatment plan. Unfortunately, general oncologists almost never encounter a case of peritoneal mesothelioma in their careers, so they do not have the experience to recognize it.
Peritoneal mesothelioma specialists are oncological surgeons who have dedicated their careers to researching and treating rare abdominal cancers. They’re also devoted to the ongoing research and development of treatments to find the best methods, approaches, and combinations that will ultimately lead to a cure.
Top peritoneal mesothelioma specialists work out of cancer centers across the country and are available to work with you now.
Here are some of the peritoneal mesothelioma doctors you can make an appointment with today:
- Dr. Joel Baumgartner—Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health, La Jolla CA
- Dr. Claire Verschraegen—Vermont Regional Cancer Center, Burlington VT
- Dr. James Pingpank—Hillman Cancer Center, Pittsburgh PA
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma contact Mesothelioma Help Now. Our experienced Patient Advocates are available 24/7 to discuss your condition and offer you support. We can help in many ways including putting you in touch with the top peritoneal mesothelioma specialists as well as helping you understand your legal rights as a victim of asbestos exposure.
If you have a peritoneal mesothelioma diagnosis, you may be eligible for compensation that will cover your treatments as well as any other expenses you have or will incur.
Call us at (800) 584-4151.