Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor of the membrane that form the lining to the pleura or membrane around the lungs, walls of the chest and abdomen. It is a rare form of cancer that effects around 100 – 500 people in the United States every year. This type of cancer has been linked to the exposure to asbestos and insulation material as almost all the patients with Mesothelioma had a history of working in such an environment. It is a very dangerous cancer and has a high mortality rate. In many cases it is only diagnoses once the cancer has spread too far.
Abdominal mesothelioma affects the lining of the peritoneum, which is the lining of the abdomen and covers and supports the abdominal organs. The one part, the visceral peritoneum, covers the internal organs. It is mostly the outer layer of the intestinal tract. The parietal peritoneum covers the abdominal cavity. In these linings are cell that secrete fluids, allowing the organs to move freely against each other. When cancer is present, it will cause these cells to overproduce fluid causing too much fluid in the abdominal cavity. When diagnosing mesothelioma, it is important to determine if the primary cause of the cancer is not perhaps pleural mesothelioma, as this cancer spreads really fast and is more common and can also spread to the peritoneal cavity.
Is Asbestos the culprit?
Asbestos fibers are very tiny and can easily be inhaled and transported through the lymph nodes to the peritoneal cavity or when ingested, find there way to the intestinal tract. Once here, they cause scarring and inflammation, which in turn leads to other health problems and cancer.
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The symptoms of Abdominal Mesothelioma
People affected by abdominal mesothelioma often don’t notice the symptoms until it’s much too late. It can take 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure to manifest into cancer as the asbestos fibers travel to the peritoneal layers of the abdomen and cause the inflammation. Cancerous cells develop over time which will divide and grow uncontrollably.
- Night sweats and fever
- Diarrhea or constipation or any chances in bowel habits: an obstruction might occur in the small or large intestine.
- Lumps may develop under the skin of the abdomen
- Abdominal swelling and pain: this is caused by the abnormal collection of fluid in the abdomen. Cancerous cells cause the cells in the abdominal lining to overproduce fluid.
- Anemia: red blood cell count is low and oxygen is not properly transported.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever: Any type of infection in the body can lead to fever. Infection is the most common cause of cancer.
- Weight loss: although fluids increase around the waist, a patient might loose his appetite and loose weight.
Diagnosis Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Diagnosing peritoneal mesothelioma is not easy and cannot be done on the symptoms alone. A thorough examination of the patient’s physical condition and medical history is necessary as well as sophisticated imaging, fluid and tissue tests. An imaging test included x-rays and CT scans to detect any malignant growths in the body. A biopsy is performed to confirm that the cancer is Mesothelioma. Following the biopsy, the fluid and tissue involved are sent for test to a laboratory for confirmation after which treatment will begin. If tumors are present they will be one of three types. The first is a dry and painful type and one large or a few small peritoneal masses will be seen in the same area. The next is a wet tumor associated with swelling. There are no solid mass, only small nodes and plaques. The last is a combination of both wet and dry tumors.
During paracentesis, fluids that have accumulated in the abdomen, is removed. This process is done by inserting a needle into the cavity to drain the fluid. This fluid is then use to diagnose which cancer is present and how to treat it.
Treating Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Treating this cancer is difficult as it has often progressed to a later stage when finally diagnosed. In this case treatment to combat the cancer and relief the pain is usually given. Treatments include surgery to remove tumors where possible, chemotherapy and radiation, the latter is used to target the cancerous cells and kill them before they divide further. Patients, who are not suitable for surgery due to their state of health, might opt for treatment to relieve pain and symptoms and improve the quality of life for them. Other patients might agree to undergo new treatments used as trials to determine their effectiveness. In some cases medications are injected directly into the peritoneum after surgery to prevent it spreading.
Chances of a full recovery depend on where the cancer is, how far it has spread and how long it’s been growing before diagnosis. In most cases peritoneal mesothelioma is diagnoses too late and the cancer too advanced to respond positively to treatment. The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the better the patients chances to recover.