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Pericardial Mesothelioma

Asbestos fibers initially enter the body through the lungs but can migrate to the heart area. Pericardial mesothelioma attacks the pericardium, or the protective tissue layer around the heart.

As the least common form of mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma attacks the heart and the area surrounding it. This makes an early diagnosis difficult for patients because doctors don’t know to look for it and patients can easily ignore it.

Caused by extreme and prolonged contact with asbestos, pericardial mesothelioma accounts for less than 10 percent of all mesothelioma cases. The disease attacks the membranous layers that surround the heart called the pericardium. It’s made up of two layers – the outer layer called the parietal and the inner layer called the visceral. The layers form a support system for the heart.

What Causes Pericardial Mesothelioma?

Like all other causes of mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma is a result of overexposure to asbestos. The fluffy and lightweight fibers of this mineral were used for decades in a variety of labor-intensive jobs, including construction, shipbuilding and military service. It was coveted because of its heat- and fire-resistant properties. In the case of pericardial mesothelioma, researchers are unclear about how asbestos reaches the heart area. Many theorize that the asbestos fibers are inhaled and work their way out of the lungs and into the lymph nodes.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Disease Symptoms

Most often, those diagnosed with any form of mesothelioma are men, in the 50 to 70 age range. Early on, the symptoms most commonly associated with pericardial mesothelioma are not always apparent. As the disease progresses, and fluids accumulate in the pericardial layers, the symptoms appear. Even with those, many are so common, like fatigue and a severe cough, that patients are often misdiagnosed. Other symptoms are less common, allowing for a more definitive diagnosis:

  • Arrhythmia – Also called an irregular heart beat, this could be caused by the mesothelioma tumors pressing on the heart.
  • Heart Murmur and Chest Pains – Again, the pressing and stress on the heart and the pericardium can cause irregular heart functions.
  • Dyspnea and Orthopnea – Commonly known as difficulty breathing when resting and laying down, respectively, these conditions are typically due to impending heart problems.

For all mesothelioma patients, it’s important to get regular medical checkups even if they are symptom free. Mesothelioma is known to develop slowly, between 20 and 50 years, and is often not caught until the later stage. If you suspect you have mesothelioma, our Doctor Match Program can guide you to specialists in your area.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Testing

If a doctor suspects pericardial mesothelioma, a series of tests will be ordered, including X-rays and CT and PET scans. If those tests are inconclusive or the doctor wants a closer examination of the area, a biopsy may be ordered. This allows the physician to remove bodily fluids and tissue for a more accurate diagnosis.

Best Known Treatments

In many cases of pericardial mesothelioma, the best option is palliative care, which offers comfort instead of treatment. In some cases pericardial mesothelioma can be treated surgically by removing the tumors. Often, however, this is not an option because of the risks to the heart. Instead, many patients are offered chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Typically, the goal in late-stage pericardial mesothelioma is not to cure the disease but to improve the quality of life.

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