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Types of Mesothelioma

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Mesothelioma is a specific type of cancer caused mainly by exposure to asbestos fibers. Early signs may include difficulty breathing. It occurs mainly in the lining of your lungs but can also develop in the abdominal area.

The disease is divided into distinct types of mesothelioma because the areas that are affected vary, but each type is a cancer of the linings of internal organs, called the mesothelium. Your abdominal area has a mesothelial covering called the peritoneum. The mesothelial membrane that surrounds your lungs and lines the wall of your chest cavity is called the pleura. Mesothelioma that develops in the pleura is called pleural mesothelioma. If this cancer occurs in the mesothelial tissue that surrounds your heart, you have pericardial mesothelioma.

Malignant pleural mesothelioma

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is the most common of the types of mesothelioma. It develops in the lining of your lungs as a result of exposure to asbestos and may occur many years after such exposure. Some people may develop asbestosis disease that can later develop into mesothelioma. Asbestosis disease can be a precursor to developing mesothelioma, the specific cancer that attacks cells in the surfaces of the body’s internal organs (mesothelial cells), usually on the lungs. Mesothelioma is also heavily linked to asbestos exposure.

Peritoneal mesothelioma

Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs in the lining of your abdomen (peritoneum) and is one of the other more common types of mesothelioma but is less common than pleural mesothelioma (fluid in the lungs). About 20% to 30% of all cases are diagnosed as peritoneal mesothelioma. Because it is, however, the same type of aggressive cancer, mesothelioma treatments will be similar wherever the disease appears in your body.

Asbestos exposure is the common factor in most cases of mesothelioma. Because that material was widely used starting in the 1930s and for many decades in the US—some countries have still not banned its use in manufacturing—the numbers of cases are increasing as the latency period (up to 50 years) begins to expire.