Mesothelium

Mesothelioma is a tumour of the mesothelium. This is the thin lining (membrane) that covers the outer surface of most of our body's organs.

More than 2,500 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the UK each year.

The mesothelium has different names in different parts of the body. For example:

• in the chest it's called the pleura

• in the abdomen it's called the peritoneum.

A cancer of the mesothelium is called a malignant mesothelioma. However, it's usually referred to simply as mesothelioma. There are other tumours of the mesothelium, such as adenomatoid tumours, benign cystic mesotheliomas and solitary fibrous tumours of the pleura. This section is about malignant mesothelioma.

There are two main types of malignant mesothelioma: pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma is much more common than peritoneal mesothelioma. Around 9 out of 10 cases (90%) of mesothelioma develop in the pleura, compared with around 1 in 10 (10%) in the peritoneum.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Symptoms vary depending on whether the mesothelioma is in the pleura or peritoneum. They may include some of those listed in this section.

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma

  • shortness of breath
  • heavy sweating (especially at night)
  • fever
  • chest pain that feels heavy and dull or aching
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • a cough that doesn't go away, although this is unusual.

A collection of fluid between the layers of the pleura (pleural effusion) may cause shortness of breath and chest pain.

Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma

  • swelling in the tummy (abdomen)
  • tummy pain
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • feeling sick
  • changes to your normal bowel pattern, such as constipation or diarrhoea.

A collection of fluid in the abdomen (ascites), may cause swelling in the tummy, pain, sickness and loss of appetite.

All of these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than mesothelioma or cancer. If you have symptoms, you should always get them checked by your doctor, particularly if they don't go away after a couple of weeks.

*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support

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