Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common form of mesothelioma, in which cancer affects the lining of the abdomen, also known as the peritoneum. Treatment will depend upon the stage of the disease, but will generally involve multimodal measures.
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Peritoneal mesothelioma is a form of asbestos cancer that attacks the cell walls in the peritoneum; the thin membranes that lubricate and protect the abdominal cavity. Once the lining of the abdomen is attacked, it stops the organs in the abdominal area from working properly.
This form of cancer is typically classified as either “wet” or “dry.” Wet produces an abundance of nodules in the abdominal area and has ascites present. Dry produces masses of cancerous cells, yet no ascites.
Only 500 people each year are diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, which is around 20% of all cases of mesothelioma.
When compared to other types of mesothelioma, it’s actually the second most common, running slightly behind the most well-known and most common form, pleural mesothelioma.
How Asbestos Reaches the Peritoneum
The peritoneum has two layers which include the parietal layer and the visceral layer. The visceral layer helps protect by abdomen by covering the abdominal organs.
The parietal layer protects and covers the abdominal cavity in the same manner. With so many layers, it’s difficult to understand exactly how asbestos reaches the peritoneum in the first place. Scientist, have theorized that this can happen in two different ways:
- Since asbestos fibers are so small, they can easily be swallowed. The fibers work their way through the digestive system and slip through the layers.
- Victims that inhale the asbestos fibers may get them caught in the lymphatic system.
Eventually the fibers make their way down to the peritoneal area. Once the fibers reach the peritoneum, it’s extremely difficult to get rid of them.
The human body isn’t equipped to successfully eliminate the small fibers from the system and previous methods to remove them all have been rendered unsuccessful.
Consequently, the fibers will start to create havoc, causing severe inflammation and irritation in the abdomen. This will eventually lead to cancer.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is caused when a victim has had prolonged exposure to asbestos. In rare cases, short-term exposure may result in the disease.
However, while inhaling asbestos is the primary reason most mesothelioma cases, victims with peritoneal mesothelioma can contract the disease by also swallowing or ingesting asbestos fibers.
Asbestos was typically ingested while on job sites that used the mineral when it was popular for its ease of use and affordability. The majority of cases stem from victims who’ve worked in steel plants, power plants, paper mills, automotive shops, and naval shipyards.
In some situations, asbestos exposure can be contracted second-hand, and children and spouses can become victims as well. Simple acts of washing clothes and being in direct contact with others who work around asbestos can potentially put others at risk.
Diseases from secondary asbestos exposure is not as common as diseases from direct expsoure. However, it’s always a good idea to have regular medical checkups if a loved one worked around asbestos.
Not everyone will experience the same symptoms. In addition, most symptoms will not surface until decades after asbestos exposure. Studies suggest that the following symptoms are the most common:
- Unusual and rapid weight loss
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Small lumps under the abdomen skin
- Night sweats
- Inflamed, thickened peritoneum
- Breathing difficulties
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Energy loss and weakness
Chemotherapy, along with radiation therapy, are the most common ways of treating peritoneal mesothelioma. Keep in mind that if the disease is caught while still in its early stage, physicians may be able to remove it entirely via surgery.
Unfortunately, catching the disease in its early stage is rare at this time as it typically takes decades, sometimes up to 50 years, as previously mentioned, before the first symptoms start to show up.
Surgery may still be performed during the disease’s advanced stages, but physicians almost always remove only parts of the tumor instead of removing it in its entirety. Once the disease has progressed, it is entirely too dangerous and poses too many risks to remove entirely.
For those who qualify, there are three surgical procedures used for late stages of the disease:
- Peritonectomy: This form of surgery entails removing the lining of the abdomen in an attempt to eliminate as many cancerous cells as possible. Peritonectomy surgery is usually performed in conjunction with cytoreductive surgery.
- Cytoreductive Surgery: Cytoreductive surgery is an invasive and long procedure, usually lasting up to 12 hours. Cytoreductive and peritonectomy surgery is combined so that cancerous cells can be removed while providing the patient with as much relief as possible.
Paracentesis: Paracentesis is a form of surgery that involves removing fluid from the peritoneal area (the area around the abdomen). The fluid is withdrawn using a long, hollow needle that’s inserted through the stomach. Once the fluid is collected, victims experience relief of pain and bloating. The bowels usually begin to work better, and patients find that breathing is not as difficult as before.
Chemotherapy also has different forms of procedures, including the following:
- Systemic Chemotherapy: Systemic chemotherapy involves chemotherapy entering the bloodstream intravenously. It’s most often used on patients who are experiencing widespread cancers across the body. Almost all chemotherapy treatments utilize systemic chemotherapy for peritoneal patients.
- Heated Chemotherapy: With heated chemotherapy, drugs are dispensed into the patient’s abdominal area. The drug is typically heated just above the patient’s body temperature before it is administered. This form of chemotherapy is almost always used after surgery, and the heat is used to kill off any cancerous cells that were left behind. Candidates for heated chemotherapy must be in good overall physical shape.
- Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy: Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is used as a prior treatment before another form of treatment is given to the patient. For example, a patient who is to undergo surgery may be given neoadjuvant chemotherapy beforehand in order to reduce the size of the cancerous tumors. Most patients start neoadjuvant chemotherapy around three months prior to surgery.
Alternative therapies are being used more frequently. Alternative therapies include a range of complementary and/or natural treatment options, which can include:
- Natural medication therapy
- Strength and healing exercises such as yoga and light pilates
- Natural foods and plants such as red cherries, asparagus, astragalus, and any foods high in Vitamin C.
- Acupuncture and massages
- Meditation and homeopathy
- Nerve stimulation
- Pet therapy
- Stress-free living, taking each day as it comes, and remaining positive
The diagnosis consists of extracting fluid from the peritoneum. The fluid is then analyzed in order to find any asbestos fibers and malignant cells. If the dangerous cells are indeed found, further testing will be performed to determine if the disease is peritoneal mesothelioma.
The process of diagnosing malignant mesothelioma usually begins after a victim complains of severe pain in the chest, abdomen, and stomach area. Complete work and medical history are almost always required as misdiagnosis for this particular disease are common.
The process is timely and usually takes months to complete. The time involved with getting a proper diagnosis is only part of the issue. Most patients are on their way to the advanced stages of the disease once they seek treatment.
When the advanced stages arrives, tumors rapidly grow and expand. A lengthy diagnosis usually results in the patients reaching the late stage of the disease before treatment begins.
Recently, doctors have begun to catch peritoneal cancer in its early stages more often than ever before. However, the average life expectancy is still around a year. Remember, though, that every situation is unique and patients may go on to live years longer.
In addition, new methods of treatments are being introduced as science continues to make breakthroughs, which can potentially further expand patient lifespans in the future.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, or asbestosis, there is a good chance that you’ll be entitled to significant financial compensation for medical expenses, pain, suffering, and much more. Fill out our form to receive our free Financial Compensation Packet. Our packet is loaded with information on experienced mesothelioma attorneys in your area.
Page Reviewed and Edited by Mesothelioma Attorney Paul Danziger
Paul Danziger grew up in Houston, Texas and earned a law degree from Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. For over 25 years years he has focused on representing mesothelioma cancer victims and others hurt by asbestos exposure. Paul and his law firm have represented thousands of people diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer, recovering significant compensation for injured clients. Every client is extremely important to Paul and he will take every call from clients who want to speak with him. Paul and his law firm handle mesothelioma cases throughout the United States.