Malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the mesothelial cells of the serous membranes in the body. The most common form of mesothelioma, affecting the lining of the lung, is pleural mesothelioma. Two to three thousand new cases of malignant mesothelioma are diagnosed each year.
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Malignant mesothelioma affects the lining or membranes of certain large cavities in the body. These cavities, called the serous cavities, house certain major organs in the body including the heart, lungs, abdomen and others. The membranes that surround these cavities are called the serous membranes. They serve to protect these major organs from the friction and abrasion that occur as the organs move against each other during typical daily functioning, such as breathing and heart beating. The serous membranes derive from specialized cells called mesothelial cells. These cells form to create the mesothelium, which is the major tissue layer of the serous membranes. Cancer that occurs in the mesothelium tissue is called mesothelioma.
Malignant mesothelioma takes on three forms:
- Peritoneal mesothelioma, in the peritoneum or membrane surrounding the abdomen. A rare form of peritoneal mesothelioma can also affect the male testicles, because the lining around the scrotum is an extension of the peritoneum.
- Pericardial mesothelioma, in the perdicardium or lining surrounding the heart.
- Pleural mesothelioma, which is the most common form of malignant mesothelioma and affects the lining of the lung cavity.
All mesotheliomas are now considered to be malignant, or cancerous. They start as a localized tumor and spread rapidly to include most of the surrounding tissues and organs. Originally, fibrous cists and other non-cancerous growths that appeared in the serous membranes were thought to be mesotheliomas and were termed "benign fibrous mesothelioma" and "multicystic mesothelioma." These conditions are now known not to originate in the mesothelial cells, but other cells within the serous membranes. These conditions are typically localized, non-cancerous and do not spread rapidly.
Most cases of malignant mesothelioma are associated with a previous exposure to fibrous minerals, of which asbestos is the most important. There is now indisputable evidence of the role of these fibers in the development of this disease. This has been demonstrated in animal experiments and many other experiments. Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos fibers has developed malignant mesothelioma, suggesting that other factors may also be involved.
Although malignant mesothelioma is rare, it is a serious, deadly disease. It is often in the advanced stages when it is detected, so the outlook for the patients is not as good as it is for the cancers that are detected earlier. The average survival time after detection is 1 to 2 years. This survival time also depends on the type of mesothelioma.
Further Malignant Mesothelioma Information
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