There are still many questions about how the main cause of mesothelioma, asbestos, may reach the heart. But, in about ten percent of the cases, they manage to. Pericardial mesothelioma is the rarest form of this deadly cancer.
What is the Mesothelium?
The mesothelium is a lining that is found throughout the body. Actually, it has different names according to where it's found. The pleura is found in the chest, the peritoneum is located in the stomach and pericardium is wrapped around the heart. The mesothelium wraps around most of the vital organs in the body. It produces a slimy fluid that lets the organs rub against each other when they function and protects them from the body walls. Since the mesothelium is so intimately involved with the organs, any disease that affects will also affect the organs it protects.
What causes Mesothelioma?
About ten percent of the cases of mesothelioma are caused when cancer cells that have developed in other parts of the body settle into mesothelium. The rest of the cases are known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. The dust from asbestos contains millions of microscopic fibers. The fibers don't dissolve or go away and they sit in the body once they get in there. It may take as long as fifty years for the damage from asbestos exposure to present itself.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that can be found all over the world. The long, thin fibers are easy to use and it's been estimated that over 3,000 products had asbestos added to them during their production. While asbestos has been in use for centuries, there were a lot of uses found for it as the age of industry got its start in the mid 1800s. Its resistance to heat and flames made it perfect for use as an insulator, especially in steam engines.
There were many professions that ran a high risk for exposure to asbestos. They included workers in power plants, miners, employees in paper mills, sailors and forge men. A lot of asbestos was used in the construction of both commercial buildings and factories and residential homes. Many of these products are still around and in use. Asbestos doesn't really become dangerous until it's exposed to the air and the particles break loose. If you think that you may have asbestos products in your house, it's best to just leave it alone or have professionals, who are licensed for asbestos removal, to come in and take it out.
How do the Fibers get to the Mesothelium?
Medical professionals are fairly certain of how the asbestos fibers make their way into the pleura. Once the fibers have settled into the lungs, they create the most common form of asbestos related disease, called asbestosis. As the lungs move with breathing, the fibers scratch the delicate tissues. Scar tissue is created as the lungs heal and this tissue can't pull oxygen from the air anymore. Once the scarring has gotten bad enough, the victim can no longer catch their breath. Over time, the fibers can also make their way to the outer lining of the lungs, where it begins to affect the mesothelium.
Doctors and researchers aren't as sure about how the fibers make it to the heart. One theory holds that the fibers may be broken down into even smaller particles in the lungs and then enter the bloodstream. Then they are carried to the heart where they get caught in the muscle walls. Once they make it to the outside of the heart, they begin to irritate the pericardium and cause it to be inflamed. Fluid will often fill the gaps made by this inflammation and begin to cause problems with the heart. Once tumors do form, they grow very quickly. They don't have to get too big before they begin to cause problems with the heart function.
What are the Symptoms?
The problem with diagnosing pericardial mesothelioma and mesothelioma in general is that the symptoms are very common to many different ailments. About the only thing that shows up with pericardial mesothelioma are chest pain and an occasional irregular heartbeat. A cough and shortness of breath may be displayed, but only rarely. That is why it's crucial that if you are experiencing these symptoms and believe you have been exposed to asbestos, you let your doctor know. Please see “Symptoms of Mesothelioma” for further information.
What are the Treatment Options?
Currently, the options for the treatment of pericardial mesothelioma are the same as for other forms of cancer. Usually used in conjunction with one another, the options are surgery, radiation treatments and chemotherapy. A doctor will open up the patient and try to remove the cancerous tissue. Then, the victim may undergo several rounds of chemotherapy or radiation treatments in an effort to kill any cancerous cells that may have separated from the main tumor mass and be floating around in the body.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma moves very quickly once it forms. The average lifespan of an individual diagnosed with mesothelioma is about six months to a year and a half. If the disease is caught early enough and treatment started, there is a possibility that the victim may survive longer. Studies suggest that some victims, about ten percent, may be able to survive for longer than three years. About five percent may live for longer than five years. The key to even partially successful treatment, though, is diagnosing the disease before it gets a strong hold.