Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Summary

Peritoneal mesothelioma is an asbestos-caused cancer that affects the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). It has a poor prognosis but better survival rates than pleural mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common form of the disease.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Overview

If you’ve been diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, or you suspect you have it, here’s what you need to know about this disease:

  • Rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure that affects the tissues that line the abdominal organs
  • The second-most common form of mesothelioma accounting for 15-20% of cases
  • Average life expectancy of peritoneal mesothelioma patients is 12 months but can improve to several years with treatment
  • Treatments involve a combination of abdominal surgery, chemo and radiation therapies
  • Clinical trials are available for patients with advanced peritoneal mesothelioma, and patients can undergo new therapies not yet available to the general public
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma can only be treated by a specialist—gastrointestinal surgeons and oncologists with decades of experience researching and treating mesothelioma

What Is Peritoneal Mesothelioma?

Peritoneal mesothelioma is a rare and complex cancer that is still not fully understood by researchers. It occurs when malignant (cancerous) tumors form within the tissue lining that covers and protects the abdominal organs—the peritoneum. Peritoneal mesothelioma is one of three main forms of mesothelioma. The other two are pleural (lungs) and pericardial (heart) mesotheliomas.

Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common mesothelioma. There are only 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in the United States each year, and peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for 15-20% of these cases.

MJN Brief

Pleural mesothelioma accounts for 80-85% of cases and less than 1% of cases are pericardial mesotheliomas.

 

Peritoneal mesothelioma has the best prognosis (outlook) of all mesotheliomas because of aggressive treatments that can eliminate the cancer when caught early enough.

Symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma

By nature, mesothelioma causes very vague early symptoms, if any at all. With no specific symptoms, it’s hard for doctors to detect peritoneal mesothelioma, given it’s so rare. There is also a long latency (delay) period with mesothelioma symptoms. It can take 10-50 years, depending on the patient, for peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms to develop after asbestos exposure.

Primary peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling and bloating
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever, night sweats, and fatigue

Most patients diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma report abdominal pain and fluid buildup as their primary symptoms.

These symptoms can easily be attributed to digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, which makes it difficult for doctors to narrow down the possible underlying condition. It’s critical to report your history of asbestos exposure to your doctor when you first undergo a consultation for peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, and knowing about your exposure can help doctors identify your condition so you can get treatments as soon as possible.

What Causes Peritoneal Mesothelioma?

There is only one known cause of mesothelioma—asbestos exposure. Asbestos is an industrial material that the majority of blue-collar, industrial workers used during the 20th century as part of their occupations. Asbestos was the main substance used in a variety of products and work sites.

Being composed of tiny-shard like fibers, disturbed asbestos can easily be ingested or inhaled by those working around it. When this happens, the fibers make their way into the mesothelium of different organs, including the abdomen.

Here’s what happens after asbestos fibers become trapped in the peritoneum:

  1. After years being trapped inside the peritoneum, asbestos fibers begin to irritate and scar healthy tissues
  2. Scarred tissues mutate into unhealthy, cancerous cells
  3. Cancerous mesothelioma cells grow out of control and divide at abnormal rates
  4. As these mesothelioma cells grow and divide, they can lump together to form tumors, which spread to distant sites (metastasis)

When peritoneal mesothelioma tumors become so large that they begin to affect abdominal organs, symptoms develop. If left untreated, peritoneal mesothelioma will be fatal. With treatment, peritoneal mesothelioma can be removed or controlled, effectively extending a patient’s life.

Who Gets Peritoneal Mesothelioma?

Because peritoneal mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, the vast majority of mesothelioma patients are men—the people who primarily held job roles dealing directly with asbestos.

With a long latency period between asbestos exposure and diagnosis, the majority of peritoneal mesothelioma patients are over the age of 50. However, peritoneal mesothelioma can also affect women. Wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends were all potentially exposed to asbestos either in their homes or schools or through direct contact with a loved one who worked around asbestos.

Asbestos fibers can become stuck to clothes, which can put family members at risk of exposure through contact such as hugging or even when doing the laundry.

Peritoneal mesothelioma does not discriminate and has affected even young men and women in their early 20s and 30s. That’s why it’s critical for everyone to be aware of this disease and how to undergo proper diagnosis and treatment.

Learn more about who is at risk of asbestos exposure by visiting our Occupations page.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Stages

It’s a standard medical practice to diagnose cancer by stage—meaning the level of severity the disease has reached at the time of diagnosis. At this time, not enough is known about peritoneal mesothelioma for doctors to have established official stages.

However, leading peritoneal mesothelioma experts divide the disease into categories to help them identify how far it has spread.

By classifying peritoneal mesothelioma as advanced vs. localized (contained to the original spot), doctors know which treatments will be most effective for each patient.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Treatments

All patients should be aware that there are treatments for peritoneal mesothelioma no matter how advanced it is. Treatment technologies have come a long way in the past 15 years, with minimally-invasive surgical techniques and new chemotherapy and radiation therapy approaches.

To get the best possible peritoneal mesothelioma treatments it’s important to have:

  • Proper diagnosis from an experienced pathologist
  • Multidisciplinary team of treatment specialists
  • Surgeons willing to perform aggressive procedures as needed

One of the most important treatments a patient can undergo is cytoreduction surgery—where surgeons remove peritoneal tumors either completely or partially. The rate of metastasis (cancer spreading) determines whether surgeons can fully remove the tumors or not.

Surgery is almost also accompanied by radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy, which are anti-cancer treatments that kill remaining cancer cells left over after surgery to prevent recurrence (when then cancer comes back).

One treatment approach producing impressive survival rates in peritoneal mesothelioma patients is cytoreductive surgery accompanied by HIPEC—heated chemotherapy administered directly into the abdomen during surgery. The HIPEC approach is more effective compared to the conventional chemotherapy way, which is after surgery and through the bloodstream.

Seeing a Peritoneal Mesothelioma Specialist

Patients are encouraged to seek treatment from a peritoneal mesothelioma specialist. With decades of experience researching and treating peritoneal mesothelioma, specialists are a patient’s best shot at survival.

Peritoneal mesothelioma specialists have highly involved knowledge of the complexities of this rare cancer and are the ones who design the most effective treatment plans for each unique case.

It’s important to know that because of how complex peritoneal mesothelioma is, the disease needs a full team of specialists each with their own role to play in your treatment. Specialized pathologists (doctors who study diseased cells) need to correctly identify the cancer type.

Oncological surgeons perform highly technical surgeries. Medical and radiation oncologists administer the correct forms of chemotherapy and radiation to help control and stop peritoneal mesothelioma from spreading.

Here are some of the top peritoneal mesothelioma specialists in the country:

  • Dr. Paul Sugarbaker — Gastrointestinal Surgical Oncologist, Washington Cancer Institute, Washington DC
  • Dr. James Pingpank — Gastrointestinal Surgical Oncologist, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, Pittsburgh PA
  • Dr. Hedy Lee Kindler — Medical Oncologist, University of Chicago Cancer Center, Chicago IL

Peritoneal mesothelioma can only be properly diagnosed and treated by mesothelioma specialists. If you’ve been diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma by your doctor or a general oncologist, then it’s vital to seek the second opinion of a specialist. Most doctors rarely encounter a case of mesothelioma in their careers and don’t have the expertise to treat it effectively.

Because it’s so rare, peritoneal mesothelioma has a high misdiagnosis rate, which can jeopardize a patient’s health. By seeing a specialist for a second opinion on your diagnosis, you can receive life-saving treatments sooner.

Compensation for Peritoneal Mesothelioma Patients

Peritoneal mesothelioma treatments are available at cancer centers across the country, all of them accepting major forms of health insurance. But health insurance is not always enough to cover the staggering costs of peritoneal mesothelioma treatments. Additionally, patients often need to travel great distances to undergo treatment at mesothelioma cancer centers.

The financial burden of cancer is devastating to many patients and their families. Filing for legal compensation can cover things like your peritoneal mesothelioma treatment costs, travel and accommodation expenses, and other damages you’ve suffered due to your diagnosis, including lost wages.

Additionally, if you’re a veteran, you may also be eligible for medical benefits through the VA if you can prove that your peritoneal mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure during your time as an active duty military member.

For more information on compensation for your peritoneal mesothelioma diagnosis, contact our Justice Support Team today.

View Author and Sources
Sources
  1. Cancer research UK, “Treatment decisions for peritoneal mesothelioma” Retrieved from: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/mesothelioma/treatment/decisions-peritoneal. Accessed on december 30, 2017.
  2. Medscape General Medicine, “Peritoneal Mesothelioma: A Review” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1994863/. Accessed on December 30, 2017.
  3. Respiratory Medicine CME, “Peritoneal mesothelioma—a case report” Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1755001708000961. Accessed on December 30, 2017.

Last modified: March 28, 2018