What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma can be benign or life-threatening. Life-threatening mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive cancer that affects cells that line the thin membranes that cover the lungs, abdomen and heart. It often develops years after exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma can be hard to diagnose because it mimics other conditions.

There are four main areas where malignant mesothelioma occurs in the body:

Plural mesothelioma: Tumors develop within the chest in the cells that line the pleura, which cover the lung and the middle part of the chest. This is the most common type of malignant mesothelioma. 

Peritoneal mesothelioma: This type develops in the abdomen.

Pericardial mesothelioma:  This very rare type of cancer develops in the sac-like covering around the heart and can mimic other heart conditions.

Testicular mesothelioma: This very rare type of cancer develops in the tissue which covers the testicles.

Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of malignant mesothelioma. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma depend on the location of the cancer. Pleural mesothelioma symptoms include:

  •  Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarseness
  • Lumps under the skin of the chest
  • Painful coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the face, neck or arms
  • Unexplained weight loss

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Constipation
  • Lumps in the abdomen
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss

Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Heart palpitations or irregular heart rhythm
  • Shortness of breath

Testicular mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Swelling or mass on the testicle
  • Testicular pain


We use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor malignant mesothelioma. Common diagnostic procedures can include:

Biopsy: A biopsy, which looks at a sample of tissue from the area where mesothelioma is suspected, is the only way to effectively diagnose the condition. A biopsy procedure differs depending upon where the mesothelioma is suspected. Biopsy can be performed using a needle or a surgical procedure through small incisions.

Imaging studies: CT scans or X-rays can be used to look for abnormalities inside the body. 


Malignant pleural mesothelioma is particularly linked to asbestos exposure. Microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled, enter the lining covering the lungs and start the cell damage, which can lead to cancer. Fibers that are swallowed can find their way into the lining covering the abdomen and start the cell damage which can lead to cancer. Exposure to asbestos over longer periods of time and/or exposure to greater amounts of asbestos are associated with increased risk. Other chemicals related to asbestos may also be associated with malignant mesothelioma.

Risk Factors

Risk factors that can contribute to mesothelioma include:

Asbestos exposure: Exposure to asbestos fibers, or to a person who may be exposed and who carries the fibers on clothes or skin, increases the risk for mesothelioma.

Age: The risk of malignant mesothelioma increase with age, with most cases occurring in people over the age of 65.


To prevent mesothelioma, people are urged to avoid contact with and prevent exposure to asbestos, which is commonly found in insulation and building products.


Prognosis for people with mesothelioma depends upon the stage and type of the cancer, the person’s age and the presence of other medical conditions.

Treatment and Recovery

Mesothelioma treatment depends on a person’s age and overall health, the type of mesothelioma and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Sometimes, multiple types of treatments are necessary, including:


If the malignant mesothelioma is diagnosed at an early stage, surgery can remove the tumors and the portions of the organ linings that are affected. Other surgical procedures can be done to decrease fluid buildup. Benign mesothelioma tumors are usually removed by surgery and most often do not require additional treatment.

Recovery After Surgery

Depending on the type of surgery and how your body heals, you may be in the hospital for several days after surgery to treat mesothelioma and it may be up to several weeks before you feel fully ready to resume normal activities.


Chemotherapy uses special drugs designed to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is usually injected or infused into the bloodstream but it can also be administered directly to the area with mesothelioma or given as a pill.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. The radiation is directed in small doses to shrink the tumor. Radiation is often used in combination with surgery or to treat symptoms caused by the cancer.


Complications of malignant mesothelioma vary depending upon the area of the body that is affected.

Next Steps with MyChart

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