Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the thin membrane surrounding the heart, known as the pericardium. It’s one of the rarest types of asbestos-related cancers. Treatment options are few because the heart lining, which is where tumors develop, is too close to the heart. There are some cases where surgery can help remove small tumors. There have been approximately 200 cases of pericardial mesothelioma reported in medical literature, which is only 1 percent of all known diagnosed mesotheliomas.
Almost all mesotheliomas can be traced to asbestos exposure, but medical researchers continue to study the link between asbestos and cancer of the pericardium. Studies are clear on how inhaled microscopic fibers reach the lungs, but less clear on how the fibers reach the heart.
This form of cancer strikes twice as many men as women, and is most often diagnosed in people between the ages of 50 and 70. Like the other types of mesothelioma, the disease develops over a long period of time, and is typically discovered at a later stage. Symptoms include chest pain, fatigue and shortness of breath. Diagnosis is difficult because symptoms mimic those of other disorders.
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Most pericardial mesothelioma patients experience symptoms that resemble those of other heart conditions long after the cancer initially develops, making the cancer difficult to accurately diagnose.
Most symptoms are caused by the buildup of fluid and the thickening of pericardial layers. The presence of any of these symptoms should be followed by a visit to the doctor with recommended screenings such as an X-ray or CT scan.
The following symptoms may indicate pericardial mesothelioma. However, they could also mean a number of other heart conditions. If you experience these symptoms, make an appointment with your physician immediately.
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Difficulty breathing, even when at rest (dyspnea)
- Shortness of breath when lying flat
- Chest pain
- Night sweats
Because pericardial mesothelioma is so rare, it is often mistaken for another heart condition. It is crucial to meet with a specialist for a second opinion.
Treatment options are limited because the heart lining rests so closely to the heart itself and could easily damage this important and delicate organ. Most patients with pericardial mesothelioma are not ideal candidates for surgery. Surgery near this area is extremely dangerous because of the close proximity to the heart.
The four primary treatment options for pericardial mesothelioma are pericardiectomy, chemotherapy, palliative treatment and fine needle aspiration.
Patients whose doctors they decide are good candidates for surgery may choose to undergo a pericardiectomy, the surgical process of removing part or all of the pericardium. This procedure can relieve pressure and minimize fluid buildup, allowing the heart to continue functioning properly. A pericardiocentesis is a less invasive procedure that removes excess fluid from the pericardium to relieve pressure around the heart.
Chemotherapy is an option that is normally considered for asbestos-related cancers, but the clinical benefits seen in pericardial patients who received this treatment were minimal. Similarly, radiation therapy, which is considered one of the primary therapies for most peritoneal and pleural cases, is considered minimally effective for this rare cancer.
Palliative treatment options are the most viable and common treatments, which aim to minimize pain and reduce the symptoms caused by the buildup of fluid in the pericardium. Essentially, palliative care can improve quality of life and make patients more comfortable. Palliative treatments can include therapies that relieve pain and pressure around the heart, such as a pericardiocentesis or pain medication.
Fine Needle Aspiration
Another treatment that removes excess fluid is known as a fine needle aspiration. This palliative procedure is more commonly used as a diagnostic method for pleural mesothelioma patients but can provide comfort for certain patients.
If you have mesothelioma, call us anytime day or night at (855) 744-1922 or contact us online.
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