What Is Peritoneal Mesothelioma?

J.M. Willhite

Peritoneal mesothelioma is an abdominal cancer stemming from asbestos exposure. Considered a rare form of mesothelioma, which usually presents in the lungs, there is no cure for peritoneal mesothelioma. Individuals diagnosed with this aggressive cancer usually undergo surgery and anti-cancer therapies, including radiation.

A CT scan may be performed in order to diagnose peritoneal mesothelioma.
A CT scan may be performed in order to diagnose peritoneal mesothelioma.

Asbestos inhalation and ingestion are two routes of exposure contributing to the development of peritoneal mesothelioma. Once fibers enter the body, they can enter the lymphatic and digestive systems only to become lodged in membranous peritoneal tissue. Unable to break free, the fibers cause inflammation. It is unknown how, but the presence of the fibers initiates cellular mutation leading to tumor development. Signs and symptoms associated with peritoneal mesothelioma may not manifest until the peritoneum becomes dense with malignancy, which can take years.

Asbestos exposure can lead to peritoneal mesothelioma.
Asbestos exposure can lead to peritoneal mesothelioma.

Individuals who have worked or lived in environments that exposed them to asbestos are at greatest risk for becoming symptomatic. Those with a genetic predisposition for cancer are especially susceptible to developing peritoneal mesothelioma following asbestos exposure. Additional factors that may increase one’s chance for peritoneal mesothelioma include a history of radiation exposure and smoking.

A complete medical history is essential in aiding with a diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma. Blood and urine analysis may be ordered to check for signs indicative of cancer, such as elevated white blood cells or proteins. Imaging tests, including computerized tomography (CT) scan, are used to evaluate the abdominal region and identify anomalies. If tumors or anomalous tissues are discovered, a biopsy is ordered to determine if the growths are malignant.

Individuals with this form of mesothelioma experience pronounced abdominal discomfort and distention that may or may not be accompanied by fever. Commonly, individuals also develop a visible abdominal lump, or mass. Some people become easily fatigued with minimal physical activity or demonstrate signs of anemia, including pallor and poor circulation. Additional signs of peritoneal mesothelioma can include nausea, constipation, and diarrhea. An increase in abdominal pressure can place nearby organs and systems under stress leading to complications, including compromised cardiovascular function and bowel obstruction.

Surgery, known as a peritonectomy, may be performed to remove as much of the cancerous mass from the abdomen as possible. If the individual is unable to undergo surgery, chemo and radiation therapies may be administered to fight the malignancy. Those whose cancer is too advanced or does not respond to treatment may opt to forego anti-cancer therapy. Medications may be given to ease symptoms and supportive care initiated to offer the best quality of life possible.

Peritoneal mesothelioma can cause frequent abdominal pressure and discomfort.
Peritoneal mesothelioma can cause frequent abdominal pressure and discomfort.

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