Less than 10% of reported cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed to be pericardial mesothelioma, making it the rarest of the three types of asbestos cancers. The pericardium is the sac of fibrous tissue that covers the heart and the bases of the main blood vessels. As with other types of mesothelioma, the only known cause is exposure to asbestos fibers or dust. While exposure to asbestos is never good, continued exposure or extended exposure to asbestos fibers make the chances of developing the disease much greater.
Scientists are still researching exactly how the particles make their way to the pericardium, yet it is believed that the particles are carried into the lungs where they are further broken down and enter the circulation system. Once entering the heart, the particles lodge in the pericardium, causing the immune system to respond by attempting to expel the particles. Irritation and abnormal growth of the cells then occurs as with any foreign substance, later leading to the development of tumors. Again, like the other types of mesothelioma, the lengthy latency period of pericardial mesothelioma makes early detection difficult. Unfortunately the disease continues to advance even before symptoms are present, so when the patient is finally diagnosed with mesothelioma he or she is already in the advanced stages of cancer.
Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma include:
- shortness of breath,
- chest pains,
- weight loss,
- intense coughing.
Pericardial mesothelioma is especially difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are so ambiguous. A successful and prompt diagnosis requires that the patient undergo either a CAT scan or an MRI as soon as symptoms become present. The warning signs of mesothelioma should never be ignored and its important when seeing the family physician to mention any possible asbestos exposure in the past. More information regarding what to discuss with your physician is available upon request if you are concerned you are suffering from any form of asbestos related disease. If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos, you should be screened regularly to aid in early detection of the disease.
While its almost impossible to successfully treat this form of cancer, treatment options are available for patients that will help improve their quality of life and keep them comfortable, as there is no known cure for this disease. Treatments, such as chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and other new therapies can help patients and improve their quality of life. It is important to remember that early detection is key to successful treatment.