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The mesothelium and its associated cancerous condition, mesothelioma, is relatively unknown by most people. It is most often found in men, but sometimes in women.
The mesothelium is the membrane that lines three of the body's cavities: the pleura or thoracic cavity; the peritoneum or abdominal cavity; and the pericardium or heart sac. Mesothelial tissue is also found in the male internal reproductive organs and it covers the internal reproductive organs in women.
The mesothelium comes from the mesoderm cell layer that lines the body cavity in the embryonic state. It becomes the layer of cells that covers and protects our internal organs. The mesothelium has two layers of cells. The first layer immediately surrounds the organ and the second layer is the sac that surrounds the cavity.
The mesothelium produces a lubricating fluid that is released between the two layers, allowing moving organs, such as the beating heart, the expanding lungs and the active intestine, to glide easily within the body cavity.
Mesothelioma is a cancerous disease in which cells of the mesothelium become abnormal and divide without control. They can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs and the cancer cells can also spread from their original site to other parts of the body. Most cases of mesothelioma begin in the peritoneal cavity. Mesothelioma is linked to asbestos exposure and smoking.
Early symptoms of mesothelioma are generally non-specific, and may lead to a delay in diagnosis. Sometimes resembling viral pneumonia, mesothelioma patients who have the disease in their lungs may complain of shortness of breath, chest pain or persistent cough. Some patients don't have any symptoms at all. Symptoms for peritoneal mesothelioma can include pain or swelling in the abdomen, weight loss, bowel obstruction, anemia, or swelling of the feet.
Remember that only a doctor can make an exact diagnosis. Sometimes, the symptoms for mesothelioma are very similar to less serious conditions, so it is imperative that you discuss your symptoms with a physician.