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3 Types of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. There are 3 different types of mesothelioma. Each type is defined by where in the body the cancer occurs: in the lungs, in the abdomen, or in the heart.

Pleural Mesothelioma – Lungs

This is the most common type of mesothelioma and accounts for 75% of all diagnosed cases. It occurs in the pleura, which is the thin layer of tissue that lines the lungs. Pleural mesothelioma is caused by asbestos fibers that become airborne and get inhaled directly into the lungs. Because this type affects 3 out of 4 mesothelioma patients, it is the most thoroughly understood form of the disease.
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Peritoneal Mesothelioma – Abdomen

About 20% of mesothelioma patients are diagnosed with the peritoneal type. It occurs in the pericardium, which is the lining of the abdomen. Peritoneal mesothelioma is caused by ingesting asbestos fibers that get stuck in the digestive tract. Over time, a tumor develops in the area.
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Pericardial Mesothelioma – Heart

About 1% of patients are diagnosed with this type, which occurs in the lining around the heart. To date, only about 200 cases of this type have been documented. Doctors know the least about this type because it so rare.
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It is important to note that other types of mesothelioma exist, such as mesothelioma of tunica vaginalis of the testis (testicular mesothelioma). Because these forms are extremely rare, we have not included them here.

Symptoms by Type

Pleural mesothelioma

  • Chest pain under the rib cage
  • Painful coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual lumps of tissue under the skin on your chest
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fluid around the lungs
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty swallowing

Peritoneal mesothelioma

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling or fluid
  • Lumps of tissue in the abdomen
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting

Pericardial mesothelioma

  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats and fever

Mesothelioma by Cell Type

The cells that are found inside the cancerous tumor can further define the type of mesothelioma. There are 3 cell subtype categories that differ in aggressiveness and how they respond to treatment.

3 Cell Types

  • Epithelioid – the most common cellular subtype, which accounts for 60% to 70% of mesothelioma cases. This is the least aggressive cell type. Medical professionals have indicted that this cell type responds best to treatment.
  • Sarcomatoid – a rare cellular subtype that accounts for 10% to 20% of cases. It is known as the most aggressive and least responsive to treatment.
  • Biphasic (also called mixed type) – a combination of both epitheliod and sarcomatoid cells within one tumor. This subtype accounts for 20% to 30% of cases. Treatment options and response vary depending on the ratio of the cell types within the tumor.

As with most cancers, early detection is essential for the successful treatment of mesothelioma. Unlike most cancers, it can take 20 to 50 years for a person to notice any symptoms. This makes diagnosing and treating this disease a big challenge.