Mesothelioma – Information, Treatment & Support

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the thin membrane that lines the chest and abdomen, called the mesothelium. The lining is divided in to two areas: in the lungs it is called the pleura, and in the abdomen it is known as the peritoneum. The division is based on the areas they affect.

What causes it?

Exposure to asbestos is the most common cause of mesothelioma. Remember: Mesothelioma is not contagious and cannot be passed on to other people.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural mineral, mined from rock and used in construction work. It is made up of tiny fibers that are very strong and is highly resistant to heat and chemicals. These fibers can get stuck in the lungs when breathed in causing pleural mesothelioma, or swallowed which causes peritoneal mesothelioma.

The symptoms of mesothelioma may include any of the following:

Pleural mesothelioma:

  • Breathlessness and chest pain
  • Hoarse voice
  • Constant cough
  • On x-ray tiny lumps (or nodules) in the pleura

Peritoneal mesothelioma:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness

If you have any of these symptoms you should have them checked by your doctor but remember, they are common to many illnesses other than mesothelioma.

Tests may include:

  • Pleural or peritoneal aspiration. This is when a doctor takes a sample of fluid from the chest or abdomen under a local anaesthetic.


The stage of a cancer is a term used to describe its size, position and whether it has spread beyond where it started in the body.

With mesothelioma it is divided into four stages:

  • Stage 1: Cancer found in the pleura near the lung and heart, or in the diaphragm or lung.
  • Stage 2: Cancer has spread beyond the pleura to lymph nodes in the chest.
  • Stage 3: Cancer has spread beyond the chest wall (the the heart, diaphragm etc.)
  • Stage 4 The cancer has spread to distant organs or tissues.

It will depend on the size of the tumour and where it is. Treated may be coordinated by an oncologist (a doctor who specialises in treating cancer with chemotherapy) and a radiologist(a doctor who specialises in treating cancer with radiation).

Treatment may involve:

There are some side effects that may occur as a result of treatment.

Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma:

Chemotherapy can be used for the treatment of mesothelioma. It can slow the growth of a tumour or can be used after surgery to try and get rid of any remaining cancer cells. The effectiveness of chemotherapy in treating mesothelioma is still being researched.

Radiotherapy for Mesothelioma:

Radiotherapy can sometimes be given to try and cure mesothelioma (by shrinking the size of the tumour). It can help with symptoms like pain and breathlessness.

Surgery for Mesothelioma:

Surgery is generally only used when the cancer is in one part of the pleura. Often it is more widely spread and cannot be treated with surgery. Peritoneal mesotheliomas are not able to be removed by surgery.

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