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Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Peritoneal mesothelioma, like the other forms of mesothelioma, develop as a result of exposure to asbestos. Asbestos exposure, whether occupational or natural occurring, can lead to a myriad of health problems in later life. Asbestos fibers, once they enter the body, do not break down. The fibers settle into a spot deep within the protective linings of the body, where they remain for decades.

Researchers are not sure why mesothelioma has such a long latency period. After a person is exposed to asbestos, it may be decades before health problems surface. During this latency period it appears that some substance in the asbestos particle shuts down the gene in the body that is responsible for slowing or stopping tumor growth. Once this gene is switched off, a tumor that develops will grow much more quickly and aggressively than a more traditional tumor.

When peritoneal mesothelioma develops, the disease may spread throughout the abdominal cavity. The tumors may be either “wet” or “dry”. Wet tumors are spreading nodules with no clearly defined boundaries. A dry tumor is a clearly defined primary tumor. The names wet and dry come from the fluid build up in the area. The technical term, ascites, refers to the production of excess fluid in the abdominal region. Wet tumors produce this fluid, while a dry tumor may or may not produce the excess fluid.

How it Differs From Other Types of Mesothelioma

While peritoneal mesothelioma has many of the same symptoms as other forms of mesothelioma, including fatigue and fever, there are other symptoms that are unique to peritoneal mesothelioma. Some of these symptoms are swelling of the abdomen, swelling in the feet, bowel obstruction and digestive problems. All of these are due to the fact that there are tumors and fluid in the abdominal cavity. One interesting difference between the more common pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma is that the latency period for pleural mesothelioma is 30 t0 40 years, while the latency period for peritoneal mesothelioma is 20 to 30 years. While this is still a substantial amount of time, researchers do not understand the difference in latency periods between the two types of mesothelioma.

The Prognosis for Peritoneal Mesothelioma

The prognosis for the peritoneal mesothelioma patient depends on the stage at which the disease is discovered. An early diagnosis can literally mean the difference between life and death. Overall, the length of time that a patient survives after they are diagnosed with mesothelioma of any type is one year. The patients that have a more positive prognosis typically receive early and aggressive treatment.

The most effective treatment developed for peritoneal mesothelioma involves the removal of the primary tumor and follow up treatment with chemotherapy or radiation. In the cases where this treatment is most effective, the tumor is totally removed, and it has not spread to any other area. While this is the optimum treatment, there are situations where surgical removal of the entire tumor is not possible. In those cases, as much of the tumor as possible is removed.

When doctors are determining how well a tumor will respond to treatment, they categorize the cancer into one of four categories. The four categories describe the tumor location and how easily it can be surgically removed.

  • Category 1: These tumors are localized. They have not spread from the cells where they developed. A surgeon will be able to completely remove the tumor.
  • Category 2: These tumors are still somewhat contained. They remain inside the abdominal cavity, and are on the peritoneal or organ surface.
  • Category 3: The tumor, while still contained in the abdominal cavity, has spread to other vital organs, such as the colon or liver.
  • Category 4: Once the tumor reaches the category 4 stage it has extended beyond the abdominal cavity and into other organs.

Doctors use a combination of physical examinations, imaging tests, pathology reports and knowledge of the disease to determine what category the peritoneal mesothelioma has advanced to.

Other Diseases That May Be Confused with Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Because of the vague symptoms and difficulty diagnosing peritoneal mesothelioma, it is common for it to be mistaken for other, more common diseases. Some diseases that peritoneal mesothelioma is often confused with are ovarian cancer, inflammatory bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease. Basically, any disease that develops in the midsection and leads to bloating and weight loss or gain may be confused for peritoneal mesothelioma. While it is the least common of these diseases, it is the most serious, so you do not want to waste any time making a diagnosis. If you are suffering from any of the common symptoms of mesothelioma and you believe that you may have been exposed to asbestos in the past, it is important to share this information with your physician. Letting your physician know about your medical and occupational history is an important part of the diagnostic process.