Mesothelioma is a fatal form of cancer that develops in the mesothelium, the protective sac that surrounds the body’s internal organs, such as the lungs, heart, stomach and reproductive organs. The mesothelium is made up of two layers of cells; one layer immediately covers the organ and the other forms the sac around it.
The mesothelium produces a lubricating fluid between the layers allowing movement of the organs so that they can move easily within the body, such as the inflating and deflating lungs, or beating heart against surrounding structures.
The vast majority of people develop mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos fibres. The fibres lodge in a patient’s body either through inhalation or swallowing, affecting the lungs, stomach and/or reproductive organs. Exposure to asbestos often occurs 20 to 40 years prior to the mesothelioma diagnosis.
There are several different types of mesothelioma, including:
– mesothelioma of the pleura, which affects a patient’s lungs and is the most common form of mesothelioma;
– mesothelioma of the peritoneum, which affects a patient’s abdomen;
– mesothelioma of the pericardium, which affects a patient’s heart and is an extremely rare form of mesothelioma; and
– mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis (men) or the tunica serosa uteri (women), which affects a patient’s reproductive organs and is also an extremely rare form of mesothelioma.