What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma can either be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous) in nature. Mesothelioma affects the mesothelium, hence mesothelioma. What is the mesothelium?

The mesothelium is a type of tissue lined with special cells referred to as mesothelial cells. The mesothelial cells typically line the abdominal cavity, heart cavity, chest cavity, and the outer surface of most internal organs. Each cavity has a specific name for the mesothelial covered cavity which is:

Peritoneum: abdominal cavity
Pleura: chest cavity
Pericardium: heart cavity

The mesothelium has a specific purpose in the body. The mesothelium produces a lubricating fluid that allows easy movement of the organs. The pleural mesothelium for example, allows the lungs to move easily with each breath that is taken. Without this, breathing would be a difficult and possibly painful process.

Many refer to malignant mesothelioma as simply, mesothelioma. There are three main types of malignant mesothelioma ranked from less likely to more commonly seen:

Sarcomatoid
Mixed/Biphasic
Epithelioid

Malignant mesothelioma more commonly begins in the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma). Approximately 10-20% of the cases of malignant mesothelioma will begin in the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma). Malignant mesothelioma rarely begins in the cavity surrounding the heart (pericardial mesothelioma).

Malignant Mesothelioma Statistics:

Mesothelioma is a very rare cancer estimated to affect 2,000-3,000 newly diagnosed cases annually in the U.S. The United States reported an increased rate of mesothelioma from 1970 to 1990, which has currently stabilized and possibly decreased. However, European countries continue to see an increase in the rate of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is commonly seen in the ages 65 years and older but increases with age. Mesothelioma is 5 times more likely to affect men than women. Mesothelioma is more common in the Caucasian nationality than African American.

Mesothelioma is a very serious cancer. Symptoms commonly do not appear early which causes mesothelioma to be diagnosed at an advanced stage. For this reason, mesothelioma has a low survival rate that is about 1-2 years. However, cancer research is slowly changing this statistic. Learn more about what risk factors predispose you to mesothelioma.


Kristy is a mother and experienced nurse. She has a Bachelor in Biology and Chemistry and writes to inform individuals interested in health information.

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