Health Information

Mesothelioma - malignant

Mesothelioma - malignant


Malignant mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is an uncommon cancerous tumor of the lining of the lung and chest cavity (pleura) or lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) that is typically due to long-term asbestos exposure.

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • Causes

    Long-term exposure to asbestos -- a fire-resistant material -- is the biggest risk factor. Asbestos was once commonly found in insulation, ceiling and roofing vinyls, cement, and automotive brake materials. Although many asbestos workers smoked, experts do not believe smoking itself is a cause of this condition.

    Malignant mesothelioma affects men more often than women. The average age at diagnosis is 60. Most appear to develop the condition about 30 some years after being in contact with the asbestos.

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may not appear until 20 - 50 years or longer after exposure to asbestos, and may include:

    • Abdominal bloating
    • Abdominal pain
    • Chest pain especially when taking a deep breath
    • Cough
    • Fatigue
    • Shortness of breath
    • Weight loss
  • Exams and Tests

    • Chest x-ray
    • Chest CT
    • Cytology of pleural fluid
    • Open lung biopsy
    • Pleural biopsy

    Mesotheliomas are often hard to diagnose under the microscope. It can be hard to distinguish between this disease and similar conditions and tumors.

  • Treatment

    Malignant mesothelioma is a difficult cancer to treat.

    There is usually no cure, unless the disease is found extremely early and the tumor can be completely removed with surgery. However, most of the time at diagnosis, the disease is too advanced for surgery. Chemotherapy or radiation may be used to reduce symptoms. Combining certain chemotherapy drugs may help decrease symptoms, but it will not cure the cancer.

    Untreated, the average malignant mesothelioma patient survives 9 months.

    Consider participating in a clinical trial (test of new treatments), which may give you more treatment options.

    Pain relief, oxygen, and other supportive treatments may also help relieve symptoms.

  • Support Groups

    You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.


    • Cancer - support group
    • Lung disease - support group
  • Outlook (Prognosis)

    The average survival time varies from 4 - 18 months. However, your outlook depends on:

    • The stage of the tumor
    • Your age and general health
    • Whether surgery is an option
    • Your response to treatment
  • Possible Complications

    The tumor can quickly spread to other organs.

  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have symptoms of malignant mesothelioma.

  • Prevention

    Avoid exposure to asbestos.

Related Information

  TumorBreathing difficul...Pleural effusion...    


Ettinger DS. Lung cancer and other pulmonary neoplasms. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 197.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Malignant pleural mesothelioma. 2012. Version 2.2012.


Review Date: 6/5/2012  

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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