Peritoneal mesothelioma is one of the four primary types of malignant mesothelioma. The name stems from the area where the cancer develops, along the peritoneum, the lining of the abdomen. It is the second-most common type of mesothelioma, and roughly 250 to 500 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
All mesotheliomas, including peritoneal, stem from extended exposure to asbestos, usually at work. People diagnosed with the disease can usually pinpoint a time in their lives when they were around asbestos dust, fibers or products for a sustained period. This exposure leads to ingestion or inhalation of microscopic asbestos particles, which can produce cancerous cells and then tumors.
The peritoneum is a protective membrane that surrounds the abdomen. It has two layers, and mesothelioma can develop on both. The parietal layer surrounds the abdominal cavity, while the visceral layer encompasses the stomach, liver and other organs of the abdomen. Together, the layers support the abdominal cavity as a whole and the organs within it.
WHAT CAUSES PERITONEAL MESOTHELIOMA?
Exposure to asbestos fibers is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Cancer experts most commonly associate the cause of peritoneal mesothelioma with either swallowed asbestos fibers that travel from the digestive system to the peritoneum or inhaled asbestos fibers that reach the peritoneum through the lymphatic system, which produces and stores cells that fight disease.
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Symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Early symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma can include abdominal pain or swelling, and diarrhea or constipation. Unfortunately, some patients do not experience any symptoms until tumors have spread. This scenario makes treating the disease hard and surviving it even harder.
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Changes in bowel habits (including diarrhea or constipation)
- A feeling of fullness
- Night sweats or fever
- Unexplained weight loss
- Nausea or vomiting
You may not experience cancer symptoms for 20 to 50 years after your first exposure to asbestos. However, once asbestos fibers reach the peritoneum and irritate the cells, the peritoneal lining starts to thicken. As the cancer develops, the buildup of excess fluid in the abdomen may occur next. Over time, tumors form and place pressure on the organs.
Because this cancer is so rare, doctors often misdiagnose mesothelioma with more common illnesses that have similar symptoms — a mistake that delays proper treatment. Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms, like abdominal swelling, weight loss, and hernias, also arise in other abdominal cancers and many less serious conditions, increasing the likelihood of a misdiagnosis.
If you have a history of asbestos exposure, the best way to ensure an accurate diagnosis is to schedule an appointment with a specialist and begin the process of diagnostic testing. Doctors who specialize in mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions have the knowledge and tools needed to make a prompt diagnosis and explain all the treatment options available to you.
When a patient is experiencing symptoms like pain or swelling in the abdomen, doctors will typically order a chest X-ray, CT scan or another type of imaging scan. These tests will help detect potential tumors and show where any cancer spread. They also help doctors choose the best biopsy locations.
Only a biopsy can confirm a peritoneal mesothelioma diagnosis. Radiologic biopsies are minor procedures that pull fluid and tissue samples from tumors or tissues that can be inspected under a microscope. Sometimes doctors need to perform a laparoscopic surgical biopsy, which is more invasive. In both cases, pathologists look at the lab results for cancerous cells in the peritoneal fluid or tissue.
Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma often go undiagnosed until the disease is in its final stages. While treatment is mostly palliative, doctors and mesothelioma specialists can offer a number of treatment options, including peritoneal mesothelioma surgery, to relieve symptoms and possibly extend life expectancy. Several treatment centers now offer peritoneal mesothelioma sarcoma treatments that involve several courses of surgery, with chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments being used either during or after a surgery:
- surgery – Cytoreductive surgery coupled with Intraperitoneal chemotherapy is considered the standard of care in the treatment of peritoneal mesothelioma. During this procedure, the visible mesothelioma tumors are removed from the peritoneum. Though this procedure is not a cure, reports suggest it can extend the life expectancy.
- Chemotherapy Treatment – Chemotherapy is not considered curative as a treatment option, however it can provide benefits to a patient affected by mesothelioma. Studies have demonstrated that the most active regimen can reduce tumors in 40% of patients and extend life expectancy in those that respond to the treatment. Chemotherapy has also been shown to suppress symptoms associated with mesothelioma, including shortness of breath, swelling and pain. It has also been shown to improve the patient’s quality of life.
- Radiation Treatments – Radiation has proved to have limited effect as a primary treatment for abdominal (peritoneal) mesothelioma. However, as a palliative treatment in conjunction with surgery, it has proven useful in preventing malignant seeding of the incision sites. The use of radiation is highly recommended in both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma to prevent the spread of mesotheliomas in the area of surgical incisions.
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