Peritoneal mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer that is related to asbestos exposure. This is the least common form of mesothelioma and is also called abdominal mesothelioma. The more common form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which can spread down into the abdominal cavity. Therefore, it is important to discover which type of cancer is the primary cancer.
What is the Peritoneum?
The peritoneum is the abdominal lining, which is why this type of cancer is sometimes referred to as abdominal mesothelioma. The peritoneum consists of two different levels – the visceral and the parietal. The visceral part of the abdomen covers the internal organs and most of the intestinal/digestive tract. The parietal abdomen covers the abdominal cavity.
What Causes Peritoneal Mesothelioma?
The most common cause of this type of cancer is attributed to asbestos exposure. It is thought that asbestos is ingested and the fibers of asbestos become wedged in between the cells of the peritoneum. The other way that asbestos fibers are introduced to the body is by inhaling them, and the fibers travel through the lymph nodes down into the peritoneal cavity. Either way, exposure to asbestos is thought to the be primary cause of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma may take years to develop and may not appear until long after the exposure. It is not only the person who works with asbestos who may be at risk for developing peritoneal mesothelioma, but also family members and others who are in close proximity, because the fibers may be transferred through clothing, hair, car upholstery or other means.
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma may not develop until as much as 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos fibers. Once the fibers have lodged between the mesothelial cells in the abdomen, irritation and inflammation result in the building of cancer cells and eventually tumors.
Common symptoms of abdominal mesothelioma include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Lumps or masses under abdominal skin
- Fevers or night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
Diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma starts with a complete examination by a doctor. Tests include x-ray or CT scans to visually image the affected area. Also, it is very common to have a biopsy of any masses or tumors that are discovered to determine if the tumor is cancerous and what type of cancer is involved.
Once it is determined that peritoneal mesothelioma is present, then the doctor will determine the advancement of the cancer and what types of treatment are best for the patient. There is no know cure for abdominal mesothelioma. Unfortunately, many cases of abdominal mesothelioma are in the advanced stages of the disease before they are finally diagnosed and therefore, are not good candidates for surgery.
However, it is very common for patients to undergo radiation treatment to shrink the tumors and then undergo surgery to remove the remaining masses. Another form of common treatment is chemotherapy in combination with radiation. Other treatments include injection of medications directly into the peritoneum after surgery.
Pain management is also a very common aspect of treatment. For patients who are in the extremely advanced stages of illness, pain management and palliative care to make sure they are comfortable may be the most appropriate treatment.