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Peritoneal Mesothelioma

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  • What is the diagnosis?

What is Peritoneal Mesothelioma?

Affecting the thin membrane protecting several of the body’s most important organs, including the lungs, abdomen and heart, peritoneal mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops in the lining of the abdomen, known as the peritoneum. The peritoneum is a thin serous membrane that protects and supports the organs in the abdomen. It is made up of an outer layer (parietal peritoneum), which is attached to the abdominal wall, and an inner layer (visceral peritoneum), which covers the internal organs. A small space between the two layers contains fluid that allows for movement of organs within the abdomen as they function normally.

20% of all mesothelioma cases diagnosed each year are peritoneal mesothelioma.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Causes

Peritoneal mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer and affects the lining of the abdomen when ingestion of microscopic asbestos fibers become embedded in the peritoneum. While it is known that asbestos causes peritoneal mesothelioma, it is unclear how the asbestos fibers reach the peritoneum. This may occur when asbestos fibers are ingested and travel through the intestinal system to the peritoneum. It is also possible that the fibers are inhaled and carried through the lymphatic system. In some cases, mesothelioma found in the peritoneum originated as pleural mesothelioma and spread to the peritoneum.

As these fibers reside in the peritoneum, they can cause irritation that may eventually lead to inflammation and a buildup in the membrane’s fluid. Cells in the peritoneum then may also become abnormal and divide out of control. Tumors growing in the peritoneum, as well as the fluid buildup, then put pressure on the organs in the abdominal cavity.

The Only Known Cause of Peritoneal Mesothelioma is Exposure to Asbestos

Common Industries

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Various Materials & Products

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Flooring, Walls, Insulation
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Roof, Siding, Windows
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Pottery & Ceramics

Used for decades in a variety of different industries and products, many people, knowingly or unknowingly, may have been exposed to asbestos in their workplace, home or school. Secondary exposure may be possible from contact with someone exposed to asbestos in which these fibers may have traveled with them on clothing or work equipment.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Symptoms of malignant peritoneal mesothelioma can take 10 to 60 years or more after initial asbestos exposure to exhibit symptoms. Once symptoms develop, they are often similar to those of common abdominal ailments or discomfort, which makes this cancer difficult to detect. In addition, symptoms typically do not appear until the cancer has progressed to a more advanced stage.

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms are often caused by the buildup of fluid in the abdominal cavity (ascites) and the thickening of the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal thickening). The more advanced a patient’s mesothelioma is, the more pressure ascites and peritoneal thickening put on the internal organs in the abdominal cavity.

Individuals with peritoneal mesothelioma may also experience:

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Abdomen Pain or Swelling
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Unexplained Weight Loss
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Obstruction of Small or Large Intestine
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Buildup of Gas
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Legs Swelling or Thrombosis
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These symptoms could be related to other conditions besides malignant peritoneal mesothelioma. If you have symptoms that are troublesome or persistent, speak with your doctor.

Diagnosing Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Because symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are often similar to those of more common conditions, it can take several tests for doctors to reach a diagnosis of this cancer. Doctors may start with a review of the patient's medical history, consider his or her general health, and complete a physical exam to determine if further tests are necessary. If you visit your doctor with concerns about symptoms you are experiencing, be sure to mention if you have been exposed to asbestos.

When further tests are warranted, the next step is likely to take an image of the abdomen, which might include x-rays, a CT scan or a PET scan. These images are helpful in detecting tumors or fluid build-up; however, a fluid or tissue sample is usually necessary to make a definitive diagnosis of mesothelioma.

These images can also help identify which type of peritoneal mesothelioma a patient has developed. The "dry" form is characterized by multiple small masses or one large localized mass, and typically does not cause ascites. The "wet" form typically exhibits small widespread nodules and ascites, with no solid mass.

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Stages of Peritoneal Mesothelioma


While staging of malignant peritoneal mesothelioma is not utilized as frequently as malignant pleural mesothelioma, doctors may use the cancer stage of mesothelioma to determine which treatment options may be available, and how effective these options may be. Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma are generally described as having localized or advanced mesothelioma. An experienced doctor may still assess how far the mesothelioma has spread and which treatments will work best to improve prognosis.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Treatment Options

A treatment plan for peritoneal mesothelioma may include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation, depending on the stage at which the cancer is found and other health factors of the patient. With surgery, doctors try to remove all or as much of the tumor(s) as possible. Because peritoneal mesothelioma may be spread throughout the peritoneum, this can often be difficult to achieve. While there is no cure for peritoneal mesothelioma, a combination of these treatment tools may help prolong the lives of patients and provide relief from the disease’s symptoms. In addition, researchers continue to search for more successful treatments of mesothelioma, and clinical trials are ongoing for additional medications to fight this cancer.