About Pleural mesothelioma, Peritoneal mesothelioma, Causes of mesothelioma , and Symptoms of mesothelioma


Pleural mesothelioma, Peritoneal mesothelioma, Causes of mesothelioma ,  Symptoms of mesothelioma and Treatment for mesothelioma

(Last Update : 21 November 2020)

This Information Sheet was written in 2012 by the Cancer Society of New Zealand. The Cancer Society’s information sheets are reviewed every three years.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium. The mesothelium lines the chest and abdomen, and surrounds the organs in both the chest and abdomen. The abdomen is the part of the body that contains the liver, stomach and bowel. In the chest, the mesothelium is called the pleura, in the abdomen it is called the peritoneum. Sometimes mesothelioma can spread into the area around the heart (pericardium).

about mesothelioma, and the symptoms and treatments for mesothelioma
Image from cancernz.org.nz

Pleural mesothelioma (the most common type)

The pleura are two fibrous sheets of tissue that cover the lungs and help to protect them. Doctors may call these the lining of the lungs. The term may be a bit confusing for non-medical people as they are on the outside of the lungs. The pleura are also sometimes called the pleural membranes. They are about the thickness of plastic food wrap. The inner (visceral) layer is attached to the lungs and the outer (parietal) layer lines the chest wall and diaphragm. 

The gap between the two pleura is called the pleural space or cavity. The pleura produces a fluid that fills the gap. As we breathe, the fluid helps the lungs to move smoothly in the chest when they are inflating and deflating. Pleural mesothelioma causes the pleura to thicken and many tiny lumps are formed. This thickening can press on the lung or attach itself to the inside of the chest wall making it harder for the lung to expand. Fluid collects between the two layers of the pleura and presses against the lung. This is called a pleural effusion.

Peritoneal mesothelioma 

Peritoneal mesothelioma starts in the peritoneum. This is the sheet of tissue covering the internal organs in the abdomen. This sheet helps to protect the organs and allows them to move around in the abdomen. The peritoneum makes a fluid that helps to keep the abdominal organs moving freely and smoothly as we move around. Mesothelioma causes thickening of the linings surrounding the abdominal organs. It also causes a collection of fluid in the abdomen, this is called ascites.

Causes of mesothelioma 

Most mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral rock made up of masses of tiny fibres. Asbestos was widely used in building materials, insulation, fire proofing, and sound absorption. When asbestos is disturbed, it sends up fibres into the air that can be easily breathed in. Once the fibres are in the lung or abdomen, the body tries to break the fibres down and remove them, leading to inflammation. Other causes of mesothelioma are not fully understood, but on rare occasions mesothelioma has been linked to exposure to radiation.

Symptoms of mesothelioma 

  • Breathlessness 
  • Weight loss 
  • Sweating  
  • Chest wall pain (a dull, heaviness in the chest) 
  • A persistent, dry cough 
  • Abdominal pain and swelling (peritoneal mesothelioma) 

Rare symptoms 

  • Difficulty swallowing, a hoarse voice or coughing up sputum or blood. 

If you go to your GP with any of the symptoms listed above, your GP will examine you and arrange for you to have some blood tests and X-rays or they may send you to a specialist. Depending on your symptoms, this may be a lung specialist (for pleural mesothelioma) or a gastroenterologist (for peritoneal mesothelioma).

Treatment for mesothelioma 

Treatment for mesothelioma may include a combination of chemotherapy, radiation treatment, supportive care and, rarely, surgery. When mesothelioma is diagnosed, it has usually spread beyond the point where it can be removed by surgery. Although there is currently no cure for mesothelioma, the aim of treatment is to make sure you have good quality of life for as long as possible. Your GP or respiration doctor must also complete a Notifiable Occupational Disease System form.

Reference Sources:

  1. Information Sheet was written by the Cancer Society of New Zealand (LINK)


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