What is Mesothelioma?

If you have a patient who suffers from mesothelioma or you have worked in an area thought to have exposure of asbestos, you may want to know what is mesothelioma, who develops this form of cancer, and what is the prognosis of the cancer and treatment options available.


Mesothelioma is an aggressive, but rare form of cancer known to develop in lining of organs like the lungs, heart, and the abdomen. It is known to be caused by asbestos, but there is no known cure for it. This disease has a very poor prognosis.

In the United States, it’s estimated that about 2,400 to 2,800 persons are diagnosed with this form of cancer every years, according to a report published by Centers for Disease Control in 2017. People who work or worked in areas with asbestos exposure have a higher risk of having mesothelioma. It can take many people a long period before the symptoms of mesothelioma appear, typically between 20 to 50 years1.

What is mesothelioma, location of mesothelioma

Again, because there is no known cure of this disease, the life expectancy is seen to be poor. Looking at the survival of a patient, it will depend on factors such as cell type, the stage or phase in which the disease is at the time of diagnosis and treatment, and the location where the tumor is found. There are also other factors that impact prognosis of mesothelioma and they include age, overall health, and if the cancer has spread.

In the United States, the rate of mesothelioma increased in the period between 1970s to early 1990s, however, since then, its rate has leveled off sometimes going down slightly. The changes in rate of mesothelioma have been noted mostly in men, and they occurred because of workplace exposure to the substance that is believed to be the primary cause of the cancer. That’s asbestos. 3

mesothelioma asbestos

The Mesothelium

In the chest and abdomen, there is a layer made up of specialized cells known as mesothelial cells. The same cells are found lining the space around a person’s heat.

So, what is mesothelium?

Mesothelial cells cover outer surfaces of most internal organs and the lining the cells form is referred to as mesothelium. The lining helps to protect organs by forming a special fluid lubricating substance that makes it safe for organs to be able to move against one another.4

Think of it this way, in the chest, you have lungs moving (contracting and expanding) when you breathe, and they don’t rub or damage each other. The lining is named according to the different areas of the body it’s found in, for example, pleura is the lining of mesothelial cells that coats the lungs as well as the space within the chest where lungs are situated.

There is also peritoneum lining that is found inside the abdomen and other organs in that location. The pericardium is a form of mesothelial cells lining (mesothelium) that covers the heart; it also forms the space holding the heart within your chest. There is also a layer of lining that lines the testicles, and it’s called tunica vaginalis. These layers of mesothelial cells can start developing cancer caused by asbestos leading to various names of the specific types of mesothelioma.4

mesothelial cells mesothelium

Mesothelial tumors may begin forming in any of the said linings, and they can be cancerous meaning malignant or non cancerous meaning benign. A patient having malignant mesothelioma may show symptoms such as:

  • Pain under their rib cage
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain, lumps, or swelling felt in the abdomen
  • Having weight loss without any obvious or known reason.5

Treatment of Mesothelioma

While the mesothelioma treatment a patient gets depends on their health and other aspects like location and stage of cancer, you find that because it an aggressive form of cancer, by the time it’s detected, it has already done a lot of damage. Diagnosis is often done at an advanced stage, a time which it’s not possible to treat or remove it through surgery.6

Prognosis for Mesothelioma

Sadly, prognosis of asbestos cancer or mesothelioma is pretty poor, most patients will live less than one year after they are diagnosed. The prognosis for this form of cancer may be improved if a patient is able to get tailored, individualized treatment soon they are diagnosed with the disease and change their lifestyle to lead a healthy life. One thing that makes prognosis to be poor is because malignant mesothelioma has an extended latency period, it takes long for it to be detected so by the time a patient has been diagnosed, it has already advanced in stage.

Life Expectancy for Mesothelioma Patients

Unfortunately, many patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma don’t live for long, they survive for about 12 to 21 months7. That said, the life expectancy for patients with mesothelioma depends upon many things including the stage of the cancer, age of the patient, and their overall health. Fewer than 10% of patients will make it past the 5th year after their diagnosis.

Reference List

  1. Mesothelioma Cancer. Available at
  2. Mesothelioma. Available at
  3. What Are the Key Statistics About Malignant Mesothelioma? Available at
  4. What Is Malignant Mesothelioma? Available at
  5. Mesothelioma. Available at
  6. Mesothelioma: Overview. Available at
  7. Mesothelioma Life Expectancy. Available at

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