Mesothelioma of the Peritoneum
Continued from: Types of Mesothelioma
Peritoneal mesothelioma is a disease that affects the lining of the abdomen, or peritoneum. Sometimes doctors refer to this disease as mesothelioma of the peritoneum. It is a common misconception that mesothelioma is a type of primary lung cancer; it is not. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the serous membranes. These membranes enclose a number of organs throughout the midsection of the body, including the abdomen. The most common type of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the serous membranes of the lungs.
The second most common form of mesothelioma cancer is peritoneal mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma can spread to the lungs and when this occurs, it is considered secondary lung cancer. Mesothelioma is also sometimes referred to as an asbestos lung cancer. Technically, this is also incorrect, since it does not originate in the lungs. Asbestosis is a type of asbestos lung disease that does originate in the lungs and is often confused with mesothelioma.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Cancer
Peritoneal mesothelioma cancer is found in 10 percent to 20 percent of mesothelioma patients. The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. For pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the lung lining), the disease process is fairly well understood. It is caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers that settle in the lungs. These asbestos fibers become inserted in the lung lining (or pleura). Asbestos fibers are very durable and cannot be eliminated through the body's processes. Over time, they cause chronic inflammation that eventually leads to growth of cancerous tumors or in some cases asbestosis.
For peritoneal mesothelioma, it is not clearly understood how the asbestos fibers become lodged in the abdomen's peritoneum lining. It is possible that asbestos fibers, after being broken into smaller pieces in the lungs, are carried from the lungs into the blood stream, and lodge from the blood stream in the abdomen lining.
A more probable cause is that asbestos fibers were ingested with food or drink. Most asbestos mining or processing facilities had constant clouds of asbestos fibers. These fibers could have settled on the food of the workers. Also, it is well established that many of the workers' clothing became infiltrated with asbestos dust. This dust could have contaminated the kitchens of the workers as they arrived home with the dirty clothing. Once lodged in the peritoneum, the chronic inflammation process leading to cancerous growths is similar to that occurring in pleural mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma of the Testicles
A rare form of peritoneal mesothelioma affects the male testicles. The covering layer of the scrotum is actually an outpouching of the peritoneum. It is thought that the asbestos fibers migrate from the stomach area to become lodged in the portion of the peritoneum surrounding the scrotum.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
Once the cancerous tumors start to grow in the peritoneum, fluid begins to rapidly accumulate in the abdominal area. This fluid causes swelling and discomfort and leads to the most common symptom of peritoneal mesothelioma: upper abdominal pain. Less common symptoms include cough and shortness of breath. Many patients have symptoms four to six months before diagnosis.
Peritoneal mesothelioma patients can exhibit all three kinds of mesothelioma cancer cells: epithelioid mesothelioma, sarcomatoid mesothelioma and biphasic mesothelioma. The type of cancer cells can affect the life expectancy of mesothelioma patients. It is thought that patients with biphasic mesothelioma cancer cells have a shorter life expectancy, than that for epithelioid or sarcomatoid. For more information on life expectancy for mesothelioma of the peritoneum, pleura or pericardium please refer to our articles on these subjects.
[Page updated May 2011]