Peritoneal Mesothelioma

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. It's the second most common form of the disease.

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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, called the peritoneum.

It’s one of three main forms of mesothelioma. The other two are pleural (lungs) and pericardial (heart) mesothelioma.

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Peritoneal Diagnosis

Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common type of this cancer. There are 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in the United States each year, and peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for up to 30% of these cases.

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

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

  • Rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure that affects the tissues that line the abdominal organs
  • The second most common form of mesothelioma accounting for up to 30% of cases
  • Average life expectancy for 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 stages, and patients can undergo new therapies not yet available to the general public
  • Should only be treated by a specialist — gastrointestinal surgeons and oncologists with decades of experience researching and treating mesothelioma
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Symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma

By nature, mesothelioma initially causes very vague symptoms, if any at all. With no specific symptoms, and because it is so rare, it’s hard for doctors to detect peritoneal mesothelioma. There is also a long latency period with mesothelioma symptoms.

It can take between 20-50 years, depending on the patient, for peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms to develop after asbestos exposure.

Primary symptoms include:

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

Most patients 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 inform your doctor of your history of asbestos exposure when you first undergo a consultation for 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 receive treatment as soon as possible.

Causes of Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma.

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.

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

Who Gets Peritoneal Mesothelioma?

Because mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, the vast majority of mesothelioma patients are men who worked in asbestos-related occupations.

With a long latency period between asbestos exposure and diagnosis, the majority of patients are over the age of 50. However, the disease 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.

Though it mainly affects older people, there have been some reported cases of mesothelioma in young adults and teenagers. That’s why it’s critical for everyone to be aware of this disease and how to undergo proper diagnosis and treatment.

Disease 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 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 tumor location), doctors know which treatments will be most effective for each patient.

Treatment Options

All patients should be aware that there are treatments no matter how late your condition has been diagnosed. 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 treatments, it’s important to have:

  • Proper diagnosis from an experienced pathologist
  • A 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, in which 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 patients is cytoreductive surgery accompanied by HIPEC — heated chemotherapy administered directly into the abdomen during surgery.

The HIPEC approach is more effective compared to conventional chemotherapy, which is after surgery and through the bloodstream.

Seeing a Specialist

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

Specialists understand 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 the disease is, treatment requires a full team of specialists each with their own role to play. 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 tumors from spreading.

Here are some of the top 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

Mesothelioma can only be properly diagnosed and treated by specialists. If you’ve been diagnosed 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, this disease has a high misdiagnosis rate, which can jeopardize a patient’s health. By seeing a mesothelioma specialist for a second opinion on your diagnosis, you can receive life-saving treatments sooner.

Compensation for Mesothelioma Victims

Treatments are available at cancer centers across the country, all of them accepting major forms of health insurance.

However, health insurance is not always enough to cover the staggering costs of treatments. Additionally, patients often need to travel great distances to undergo treatment at mesothelioma cancer centers.

The financial burden of cancer is devastating to most patients and their families. Claiming legal compensation can cover things like your treatment costs, travel and accommodation expenses, and other damages 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 asbestos exposure during your time as an active duty military member contributed to your mesothelioma diagnosis.

For more information on compensation for your mesothelioma diagnosis, contact us today at (888) 360-4215.

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Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: February 24, 2020

View 3 Sources
  1. Cancer research UK, “Treatment decisions for peritoneal mesothelioma” Retrieved from: Accessed on december 30, 2017.
  2. Medscape General Medicine, “Peritoneal Mesothelioma: A Review” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 30, 2017.
  3. Respiratory Medicine CME, “Peritoneal mesothelioma—a case report” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 30, 2017.
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