Pericardial mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops in the heart—specifically in the thin layer of tissue that lines the heart. The only known cause is exposure to asbestos.
Only about 1% of mesothelioma patients are diagnosed with the pericardial type of the disease. To date, approximately 200 cases have been documented. Because it is so rare, doctors know the least about this type of mesothelioma.
- Difficulty breathing and swallowing
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Night sweats and fever
Doctors may use a variety of methods to diagnose pericardial mesothelioma, including:
- Imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans
- Blood tests
Your doctor will use imaging tests to look inside your body to locate cancerous areas, and to see where and to what extent the cancer has spread. The different types of imaging tests include:
- Echocardiogram: A doctor is likely to use this test if he suspects there is fluid buildup around a patient’s heart—indicating pericardial mesothelioma. The procedure will also reveal how effectively the patient’s heart is pumping. An echocardiogram can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour to complete. If your doctor performs this test, you may get the results immediately. If a technician tests you, it will likely take several days for your doctor to review your results and contact you.
- X-ray: An X-ray creates a 2-dimensional image and can reveal abnormal thickening, fluid, or calcium deposits, any of which could indicate mesothelioma. This test takes approximately 30 minutes. Although digital images may be available immediately, it may take 1 day for your doctor to interpret and report the results to you.
- CT scan (computerized tomography scan): During this test, the patient lies still on a narrow table while a scanner rotates around his body, taking multiple cross-sectional pictures. A computer combines these pictures to create 1 detailed image of the soft tissues inside the body. This test takes less than 1 hour. You will likely get your results within 2 days.
- PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): For this test, patients are injected with a small, harmless amount of radioactive material. Any existing cancer cells will absorb the radioactive material more quickly than normal cells, so the location of the cancer is highlighted. This test takes about 30 minutes. You can expect your results within 2 to 3 days.
- MRI scan (also called magnetic resonance imaging scan): This test provides detailed images of the body’s soft tissue and can reval the precise location and size of a tumor. This test can take up to 1 hour. You may be able to get preliminary results in 1 to 2 days, but more detailed results with your doctor’s interpretation can take 4 to 7 days.
Mesothelioma can change the makeup of a person’s blood. High levels of a protein called osteopontin and certain peptides (amino acids that act as protein building blocks) often indicate mesothelioma. Blood tests are not used specifically to diagnose mesothelioma, but they can provide more information about a patient’s disease. Blood tests take just a few minutes, but the results can take several days.
A biopsy is a sample of the fluid or tissue either in or surrounding a tumor. Depending on where the tumor is located, a sample can be removed surgically or by using a long, hollow biopsy needle. All samples are sent to a pathology lab, where the cells are examined under a microscope and tested for the presence of cancer cells. This test can take anywhere from just a few minutes for a needle biopsy to several hours and potentially an overnight stay in the hospital for a surgical biopsy. You can expect results within 1 to 2 days.
Treatments for Pericardial Mesothelioma
Chemotherapy is commonly used to treat cancer, including pericardial mesothelioma. Chemotherapy drugs aggressively and effectively attack the cancer cells, but unfortunately, healthy cells are also often affected. You should be prepared for uncomfortable side effects such as hair loss, loss of appetite, mouth sores, and nausea. The reduction of red and white blood cells may also cause fatigue and increase your chance of infection. Fortunately, these difficult side effects typically fade away after you have completed treatment.
There are several ways patients can receive chemotherapy, such as by swallowing a pill. The most common method, however, is with chemotherapy drugs that are injected into the bloodstream (systemic therapy) or directly into the area of the body where the cancer is located. Chemotherapy treatment is typically given in cycles that last between 3 and 4 weeks.