Mesothelioma cancer affects the serous membranes that surround the major organs in the midsection of the body. Different organs can be affected by mesothelioma because the serous membranes surround the lungs, heart, abdomen and others. The most common type of mesothelioma is that which affects the lung lining, and is called pleural mesothelioma. Other types are pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the heart, and peritoneal mesothelioma, affecting the lining of the abdomen.
Mesothelioma, contrary to what many people think, is not a type of primary lung cancer. That is, mesothelioma does not originate in the lungs, but as described above, it starts in the serous membranes or lining around the lungs (or other organs). However, mesothelioma can spread to the lungs and when this occurs, it is considered to be a secondary lung cancer. Mesothelioma is also commonly referred to as an asbestos lung cancer. Technically, this is also incorrect, since mesothelioma does not originate in the lungs. Asbestosis is a type of asbestos lung disease that is often confused with mesothelioma.
Pleural mesothelioma represents about 75% of all mesotheliomas. The disease can grow quickly and enlarge the pleural space, causing it to fill with fluid. This fluid leads to the discomfort or pain associated with first detection of the disease. It is thought that pleural mesothelioma is caused by the inhaling of fibrous materials, including asbestos. These fibers become lodged in the pleura and, over time, cause damage that can lead to cancer.
The rarest form of mesothelioma is that which affects the linings of the heart cavity, called the pericardium. Less than 10% of all mesothelioma cases are related to the heart. As in the lung, the rapid growth of the cancerous tumors can cause expansion of the tissue and accumulation of fluid. The fluid can interfere with the functioning of the heart and cause chest pain. Mesothelioma cases are known to be caused by exposure to asbestos; but it is completely unknown how the asbestos fibers enter the tissue layers surrounding the heart.
Mesothelioma of the abdomen is called peritoneal mesothelioma. The serous membrane surrounding the abdomen is known as the peritoneum. This disease accounts for approximately 10% to 20% of mesothelioma cases. In addition, a rare form of peritoneal mesothelioma affects the male testicles. The covering layer of the scrotum is actually an outpouching of the peritoneum. Peritoneal mesothelioma is due to the ingestion of fibrous materials, including asbestos.