Long-term exposure to asbestos is the biggest risk factor. Asbestos is a fire-resistant material. It was once commonly found in insulation, ceiling and roofing vinyls, cement, and car brakes. Even though many asbestos workers smoked, experts do not believe smoking itself is a cause of this condition.
Men are affected more often than women. The average age at diagnosis is 60 years. Most people seem to develop the condition about 30 years after being in contact with the asbestos.
Malignant mesothelioma is an uncommon cancerous tumor. It mainly affects the lining of the lung and chest cavity (pleura) or lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). It is due to long-term asbestos exposure.
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will do an examination and ask the person about their symptoms and medical history. Tests that may be done include:
Mesothelioma is often hard to diagnose. Under the microscope, it can be hard to tell this disease apart from similar conditions and tumors.
The average survival time varies from 4 to 18 months. Outlook depends on:
- The stage of the tumor
- The person's age and general health
- Whether surgery is an option
- The person's response to treatment
You and your family may want to start thinking about end-of-life planning, such as:
Complications of malignant mesothelioma may include:
- Side effects of chemotherapy or radiation
- Continued spread of cancer to other organs
Avoid exposure to asbestos.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.
Symptoms may not appear until 20 to 40 years or longer after exposure to asbestos, and may include:
Malignant mesothelioma is a difficult cancer to treat.
There is usually no cure, unless the disease is found very early and the tumor can be completely removed with surgery. Most of the time, when the disease is diagnosed, it is too advanced for surgery. Chemotherapy or radiation may be used to reduce symptoms. Combining certain chemotherapy drugs may help decrease symptoms, but it will not cure the cancer.
Untreated, most people survive about 9 months.
Participating in a clinical trial (test of new treatments), may give the person more treatment options.
Pain relief, oxygen, and other supportive treatments may also help relieve symptoms.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your provider if you have symptoms of malignant mesothelioma.
Baas P, Hassan R, Nowak AK, Rice D. Malignant mesothelioma. In: Pass HI, Ball D, Scagliotti GV, eds. IASLC Thoracic Oncology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 53.
Broaddus VC, Robinson BWS. Pleural tumors. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 82.
National Cancer Institute website. Malignant mesothelioma treatment (PDQ) – health professional version.