The Facts About Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a well-known word to anyone who has spent time watching daytime TV and its copious commercials. However, many seem to be under the impression that this disease is a type of lung cancer. This is a common misnomer; though mesothelioma is a type of cancer and does develop in the chest (thoracic) cavity, that is essentially where the similarities end between the two. 

So, what is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that arises from a type of cells known as mesothelial cells that form a thin membrane of tissue which lines body cavities and organs. This includes the pleura (lining of the chest cavity and around the lungs), pericardium (lining around the heart), peritoneum (lining of the abdomen and chest). It is the only known cancer that affects this tissue.

Mesothelioma is unique in a variety of ways, including the fact that it has a very distinct causality—asbestos. Currently, asbestos exposure is documented in approximately 80% of reported mesothelioma diagnoses.  Because asbestos is the only proven cause of mesothelioma, many believe that in the remaining cases the asbestos exposure source is unknown.  However, because a small percentage of patients have no known exposure and others exposed to asbestos don’t develop mesothelioma, there is growing interest if there are genetic mutations responsible for disease susceptibility.

The word asbestos is used to describe several types of naturally occurring fibrous minerals. It was once coveted for its resistance to fire and chemical reactions and used for a number of different things, including insulation, flooring and even automotive parts, but is now strictly regulated because of its link to mesothelioma and other lung diseases.

How does asbestos cause pleural mesothelioma?

When the microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled through the lungs, they become lodged in thebody’s tissues and chest wall.  While coughing clears much of the fibers, it is unable to clear them all.  Because of asbestos’ indestructible quality, these fibers remain for decades.   The latency period (time between exposure and onset of disease) is typically between 30 to 40 years, thus signs of the disease usually appear later in life.  In fact, the average age range for a mesothelioma diagnosis is between 50 and 70.

What else makes mesothelioma distinct?

Another big differentiator is how the disease takes shape.  Unlike many cancers that form a discrete tumor mass, mesothelioma tends to develop in a spreading pattern across a broad tissue surface.  This makes early diagnosis difficult as in the beginning stages it is difficult to diagnose through imaging (i.e. with an Xray or CT scan).

Mesothelioma is also what’s known as a “silent killer.” That’s because symptoms do not typically appear until the disease has reached an advanced stage, which limits treatment options and the overall five-year survival rate to an estimated 10 percent. Many times, the specialists at Thoracic Group are typically only faced with mesothelioma when:

  • A patient complains of pain and, upon further examination following testing—such as a computed tomography (CT) scan—is shown to have pleural plaque, which can be a sign of mesothelioma and other lung diseases; or
  • A patient has a reoccurring accumulation of fluid in the pleura and testing reveals the presence of mesothelioma

Consult a Lung Cancer Specialist

If you have recently had a scan, been diagnosed with mesothelioma, or need a second opinion, our New Jersey-based team of specialists will help evaluate findings and devise a treatment plan that is right for you.

As the pioneers of video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), our experts have decades of experience in minimally invasive surgical treatment and can provide our patients with helpful information on their conditions. Thoracic Group surgeons work in collaboration with a team of specialists, including oncologists, pulmonologists, radiologists, pathologists and nurse navigators to provide the most comprehensive care.  

For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Thoracic Group today.