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Pericardial Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects three main parts of the body – the lungs, the abdomen, and the heart. The development of mesothelioma only occurs after exposure to asbestos, a dangerous natural substance. Therefore, mesothelioma is preventable in most cases. Unfortunately, however, thousands of people have died from this deadly form of cancer and thousands more are diagnosed every year. Are you at risk? If you have been previously exposed to asbestos, you may develop mesothelioma, even if your exposure happened decades ago. By learning a bit about asbestos and mesothelioma, you can determine if you are at risk and what you should do to stay healthy.
Of all types of mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma is the one that doctors least understand. Pericardial mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the lining of the heart. It all starts by breathing in asbestos fibers. Asbestos was once used in a number of products because it is strong, durable, lightweight, flexible, and heat-resistant. In addition, when compared to the other options, asbestos was extremely cheap to mine, ship, and use in manufacturing. However, another of asbestos’ qualities is that it is very fibrous. Whenever asbestos rock or powder is disturbed, tiny fibers fill the air.
Although very small, asbestos fibers are extremely dangerous because they are jagged and pointy. These sharp fibers can tear tissue and become lodged in the body. This is how mesothelioma develops in the linings of the lungs and abdomen – asbestos is either breathed in or swallowed, and the fibers get stuck in the soft tissue linings of these organs. Please see “Peritoneal Mesothelioma” and “Pleural Mesothelioma” for information about these cancers.
How asbestos attacks the lining of the heart is still open for debate. The most popular theory is that some of the smaller asbestos fibers break through the lining of the lung and enter the blood stream going to the heart. When the heart pumps, the asbestos fibers get stuck in the very sensitive soft tissue lining of the heart – the pericardium. Because this is unlikely to happen, pericardial mesothelioma is extremely rare, with less than 200 new cases diagnosed every year. That also makes it hard to study and thus hard to treat. The life expectancy for a patient dealing with pericardial mesothelioma is lower than other mesothelioma patients.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops slowly over many years. In some cases, patients are not diagnosed with this cancer until 30 or more years after initial exposure to asbestos. Inhaling asbestos fibers just once is enough to cause cancer, but the risks greatly increase the longer you are exposed.
Because pericardial mesothelioma builds up slowly, some people miss the signs and symptoms that gradually worsen until they become a major problem. At this point, it is likely that the cancer is unable to be effectively treated, and it may have spread through the blood stream to other parts of the body. Some symptoms you should look for include the following: chest pains that worsen over time, irregular heartbeat, pressure on the chest, coughing, and shortness of breath.
If you are diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma, there are a number of treatment options you should discuss with your doctor. The best path depends on the advancement of the cancer and your personal preferences. Surgery is sometimes a good option, especially if you catch the mesothelioma early. However, because the cancer is located near the heart, surgery is not always an option. Instead, you can opt to try radiation or chemotherapy. Both of these traditional cancer options work at destroying cancerous cells which, left untreated, grow very quickly. For information about treatment, please see “Mesothelioma Treatment Options.”
You can also choose not to treat the cancer, which is often a decision that patients with advanced pericardial mesothelioma consider. Instead, the medical treatments done are used to make you more comfortable. Fine needle aspiration is recommended to help the heart beat and subdue any pain – this technique uses a hollow needle to drain the fluid from your chest. Medications can also be effective, and new clinical trials are testing alternative drugs to see if they are effective against mesothelioma.
If you’ve developed pericardial mesothelioma, it's important to talk with both a medical professional and a lawyer. A mesothelioma attorney can discuss your case with you and talk about your legal rights. In most cases, mesothelioma is the fault of a past employee or of someone else who knowingly put you in harm’s way without your consent. Asbestos corporations chose profit over the health of consumers and employees and, as a result, thousands of people have died. You do have legal rights in this situation to help you get the compensation you deserve to pay for medical bills, lost wages, funeral expenses, and other fees associated with mesothelioma. Please see “Legal Issues and Mesothelioma” for more information

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