Understanding Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common type of mesothelioma after pleural mesothelioma. It is estimated that between 10 and 15 percent of mesothelioma cases are peritoneal. There are around 250 cases of peritoneal mesothelioma diagnosed annually in the United States with the majority involving patients 65 years or older.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is considered easier to treat than pleural or pericardial mesothelioma. The most common treatment for peritoneal mesothelioma is a combination of surgery and heated chemotherapy. This combination has been successful at improving survival rates, with some studies showing an average survival rate of five years.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Causes
Peritoneal mesothelioma is directly linked to asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a fibrous material that lodges in the abdomen when accidentally inhaled and ingested. Construction or industrial workers may have been exposed to asbestos during their career and are at risk of developing peritoneal mesothelioma.
Researchers still do not know exactly how asbestos fibers end up in the abdominal lining in mesothelioma cases. Currently, they believe there are three possible ways asbestos fibers make their way peritoneum.
Researchers believe the fibers are:
- Inhaled, coughed up in mucus and then swallowed.
- Ingested by eating or drinking contaminated food and water from a worksite with asbestos exposure.
- Inhaled and work their way into the lymphatic system, which circulates throughout the body and transports the fibers to the peritoneum.
Over time, these asbestos fibers can cause irritation and inflammation, which can trigger genetic mutations in healthy cells. These mutations form mesothelioma cancer cells. Cancer cells by nature will multiply themselves and continue to grow until they form tumors, which are clumps of cancerous tissues.
Left untreated, the tumors will continue to grow and spread to other surrounding areas. However, treatment can remove and shrink tumors, kill cancer cells and possibly send cancer into remission.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
Because peritoneal mesothelioma affects the lining of the abdominal organs, gastrointestinal issues are common. As peritoneal mesothelioma progresses, it causes fluid buildup (ascites), which is treated with a procedure called paracentesis. Paracentesis uses a hollow needle to remove abdominal fluid. Tumors also expand in the abdomen lining as the cancer progresses.
Fluid buildup and tumor expansion cause painful swelling of the abdomen and other symptoms.
Other common symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Fatigue and weakness
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
Most people with peritoneal mesothelioma don’t notice symptoms until 25 to 40 years after asbestos exposure. Early symptoms like abdominal pain and swelling are easily confused with other intestinal conditions. This can make the cancer very difficult to catch, since something as simple as a change in diet can cause gas and bloating.
Early symptom detection can lead to a diagnosis and prompt treatment can extend your life expectancy. If you are experiencing peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms, be sure to discuss them with your doctor.
If you’ve been diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma and your symptoms have changed or worsened, inform your health care team immediately. Health care professionals can alter treatments and prescribe palliative medicine to relieve common symptoms like abdominal pain and swelling.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Because peritoneal mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, doctors make sure to rule out other possible conditions that cause similar symptoms.
Doctors follow three steps in diagnosing peritoneal mesothelioma:
1. Assess Symptoms and History
Doctors first check symptoms to determine if they are congruent with peritoneal mesothelioma. Doctors also will rule out other possible conditions that present similar symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome or a hernia. If the patient has a history of asbestos exposure, doctors will consider peritoneal mesothelioma a possibility.
2. Conduct Tests
Doctors will order more tests if they have sufficient evidence of peritoneal mesothelioma. Tests for peritoneal mesothelioma look for abdominal swelling as well as the size and location of tumors. Doctors typically use CT scans, X-rays and ultrasounds as they work toward a diagnosis.
3. Perform Biopsies
If doctors confirm the presence and location of peritoneal tumors, they will order a biopsy. Biopsies allow doctors to collect samples of tissue from the peritoneum. Doctors use a microscope to look for mesothelioma cancer cells in these tissue samples. If mesothelioma cancer cells are present, then they can confirm a diagnosis.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Stages
At this time, there are no formal cancer stages for peritoneal mesothelioma because of its rarity. Instead, doctors base treatment on whether the cancer is localized or advanced.
Some doctors won’t operate if they feel the mesothelioma has spread too far. However, patients can always get a second opinion as another doctor may believe surgery is necessary despite or because of the spread.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Prognosis
A prognosis tells a patient what they can expect both in disease progression and life expectancy. Peritoneal mesothelioma has the best prognosis compared to other forms of mesothelioma.
Without treatment, peritoneal mesothelioma patients have a life expectancy of 12 months. With treatments like surgery and chemotherapy, many patients survive between three and five years.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Treatment
When doctors confirm a diagnosis, they will move quickly to begin peritoneal mesothelioma treatments. The most common treatment is cytoreductive surgery with heated chemotherapy (HIPEC). This treatment plan alone has saved many lives and increased patient survival rates dramatically.
By pursuing treatment immediately following a diagnosis, peritoneal mesothelioma patients can greatly improve their life expectancy. Peritoneal mesothelioma treatments are effective at controlling painful symptoms so that patients can maintain and improve their quality of life for as long as possible.
Talk to your doctor about the best treatments available for your case of peritoneal mesothelioma so you can increase your life expectancy and stay healthy over a longer period of time.