Most people think of malignant mesothelioma as a type of cancer that affects the lungs. While this is true, the lungs aren’t the only organs affected. In fact, it’s possible for malignant mesothelioma tumors to appear in other parts of the body, including the abdominal cavity and the testicles. This is due in large part to the nature of the disease, and the nature of asbestos exposure, which is the primary cause of malignant mesothelioma.
The Nature of the Disease
Mesothelioma is cancer, and all cancers are caused by mutated cells.
The word “mesothelioma” comes from the word mesothelium, which is the membrane that lines many of your body’s cavities. It also forms the sack that surrounds your heart, and encloses the testicles, and encases the abdominal and thoracic cavities.
The suffix “-oma” means growth or tumor.
Therefore, mesothelioma is a growth or tumor in any of the membranes that line your lungs, surround your heart, enclose your testicles, or encase your abdominal and thoracic cavities.
Therefore, because you have mesothelium all over your body, malignant mesothelioma is not just confined to your lungs. It’s possible for any of those mesothelium cells, anywhere on your body, to mutate and cause tumors.
Who is at Risk for Asbestos Exposure?
In 19th and 20th centuries, asbestos was considered a wonder material. It was cheap, durable, and fireproof, and Americans used it in almost everything.
- Asbestos fibers were woven into fabrics to make them fireproof;
- It was added to all manner of building materials, including wall plaster, flooring tiles, and wall insulation;
- It was used to insulate furnaces and heating ducts;
- It was used by the military, especially as building materials and insulation on ships and in barracks; and,
- It was used to make brake pads and insulating materials in automobiles.
Back in the height of our love affair with asbestos, factories didn’t always use proper safety measures. It wasn’t unusual for workers to handle asbestos without wearing safety masks, and to get the fibers all over their clothing. Many of these workers would then carry those fibers home and expose their wives and children.
Even when it became apparent that asbestos was causing health problems, workers didn’t always get the protection they needed. Many asbestos workers who have gotten sick have filed lawsuits, even decades after the original asbestos exposure. Among the most frequently asked questions about mesothelioma lawsuits is the amount of time during which one can legally seek damages.
How Asbestos Gets Into the Body.
There are two major ways that asbestos gets into the body.
- The fibers become airborne and someone inhales them; and/or,
- Someone swallows them, either during inhalation, by ingesting food or drink contaminated with the fibers, or by using a product, like toothpaste, that contains asbestos.
Inhalation is the most common cause of malignant mesothelioma in the lung, and swallowing, or ingestion, is the most common cause of malignant mesothelioma in other parts of the body.
Malignant Mesothelioma in Other Parts of the Body.
The majority of malignant mesothelioma tumors begin in the membranes that line the chest cavity. This condition is known as pleural mesothelioma, and it occurs in three out of every four cases. Although it doesn’t actually occur inside the lung, this is the type of mesothelioma that people refer to when they speak of mesothelioma of the lung.
The second most common form of malignant mesothelioma is peritoneal mesothelioma, which occurs in the membrane lining the abdominal cavity.
The other two types of malignant mesothelioma are comparatively rare:
- Pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the membranes around the heart; and,
- Mesothelioma in the tunica viginalis, which surrounds the testicles.
Symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Due to the location of the tumors, the symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are very different from the symptoms in the lung. People with this type of mesothelioma tend to experience abdominal pain and swelling, unexplained weight loss, and could feel lumps in the abdomen.
They might also experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipations, and other digestive problems, caused by the tumors pressing against the intestines and other organs in the abdominal cavity.
Symptoms of Pericardial Mesothelioma
Due to the location of the tumors, the symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma could be similar to some of the symptoms in the lung. People with this type of mesothelioma tend to experience chest pain, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath. They might also feel lumps in the chest around the heart area.
Mesothelioma in the Tunica Viginalis
The most common symptom of mesothelioma of the tunica viginalis is a swelling or mass on the testicle.
Testing and Diagnosis
Because mesothelioma is considered so rare, there aren’t a lot of screening tests that can detect the early stages of the disease. However, many doctors recommend that people with a history of asbestos exposure have regular chest X-rays or CT scans to look for tissue changes that could signal the early stages of mesothelioma.
When a patient has symptoms, and tumors appear, the doctor can diagnose the disease by taking a biopsy of the tumor material, which could include surgically opening the thoracic or abdominal cavity.
Regardless of where the tumors appear, the prognosis depends largely on when the tumors are detected.
Mesothelioma is categorized in four stages, with stage I being the earliest with the greatest chance for survival, and stage IV being the latest with the lowest chance of survival.
This is why it’s important to be aware of the symptoms, and get diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible.