Malignant mesothelioma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are found in the pleura (the thin layer of tissue that lines the chest cavity and covers the lungs) or the peritoneum (the thin layer of tissue that lines the abdomen and covers most of the organs in the abdomen).
Being exposed to asbestos can affect the risk of developing malignant mesothelioma.
Many people with malignant mesothelioma have worked or lived in places where they inhaled or swallowed asbestos. After being exposed to asbestos, it usually takes a long time for malignant mesothelioma to occur. Other risk factors for malignant mesothelioma include the following:
Possible signs of malignant mesothelioma include shortness of breath and pain under the rib cage.
Sometimes the cancer causes fluid to collect around the lung or in the abdomen. These symptoms may be caused by the fluid or malignant mesothelioma. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:
Tests that examine the inside of the chest and abdomen are used to detect (find) and diagnose malignant mesothelioma.
Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer. The following tests and procedures may be used:
Complete blood count (CBC): A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
Sedimentation rate: A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the rate at which the red blood cells settle to the bottom of the test tube.
Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues from the pleura or peritoneum so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. Procedures used to collect the cells or tissues include the following:
Fine-needle aspiration biopsy: The removal of part of a lump, suspicious tissue, or fluid, using a thin needle. This procedure is also called a needle biopsy.
Thoracoscopy: An incision (cut) is made between two ribs and a thoracoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted into the chest.
Peritoneoscopy: An incision (cut) is made in the abdominal wall and a peritoneoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted into the abdomen.
Laparotomy: An incision (cut) is made in the wall of the abdomen to check the inside of the abdomen for signs of disease.
Thoracotomy: An incision (cut) is made between two ribs to check inside the chest for signs of disease.
Bronchoscopy: A procedure to look inside the trachea and large airways in the lung for abnormal areas. A bronchoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted through the nose or mouth into the trachea and lungs. Tissue samples may be taken for biopsy.