• In this article, mesothelioma legal specialist Jeremy Horton explains the different types of mesothelioma, their effects, and the symptoms to look out for.

    About mesothelioma

    About 80-85% of mesothelioma cancers occur in the lining (the pleura) to the lung. However, what is not necessarily appreciated is that mesothelioma can occur elsewhere. In fact, this rare cancer can develop anywhere in the mesothelium. This is a membrane lining body cavities not just around the lungs but also the abdominal (the peritoneum), the heart (the pericardium) or the testicles (tunica vaginalis of testis).

    It has been reported that 10-15% of cases of mesothelioma involve not the lung but the lining of the abdomen, the peritoneum, known as peritoneal mesothelioma. The other two areas make up less than 5% of cases.

    All mesothelioma cancers are predominantly caused by asbestos exposure (although non asbestos causes are more common with peritoneal mesothelioma).

    All take many years to develop, with typical time between asbestos exposure and onset of symptoms 20 to 50 years. There is no cure for any of them and tragically, all are fatal.

    Pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma – what are the differences?

    There are some significant differences between pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.

    Pleural meso directly surrounds the lung, and usually presents with shortness of breath, chest pain or fatigue. Signs of mesothelioma can often be picked up by X-rays and CT scan of the lungs prompting biopsies to confirm the diagnosis.

    By contrast, peritoneal mesothelioma attacks in a more diffuse way initially. It invades a general lining (the peritoneum) surrounding the abdomen as a whole, rather than one specific organ. Therefore, it may be rather harder to detect its symptoms and relate it to this specific form of rare cancer.

    Its symptoms are very similar to more common cancers of specific abdominal organs with which it may be confused, including abdominal swelling, nausea, vomiting, and bowel obstruction.

    Also, compared to pleural mesothelioma there is nothing very obvious that will show up on a CT scan nor are there any other very useful tests before a tissue biopsy.

    At the same time peritoneal mesothelioma is very good at quickly spreading to other abdominal organs and so it may be these secondary cancers (e.g. bowel cancer) are detected before the primary peritoneal cancer.

    However, promising recent research from the US indicates that where peritoneal cancer is diagnosed early enough, it often responds better to treatments such as chemotherapy than pleural mesothelioma. The research also shows that life expectancy of sufferers is also better.

    One study showed the average peritoneal meso sufferers lived about two years after diagnosis, compared to around one year for those with pleural mesothelioma.

    The typical peritoneal meso sufferer was also found to be younger and more likely to be female than pleural meso victims (predominantly under 70 and 44% women with peritoneal compared with mostly over 75 and 81% male with pleural).

    Current cases

    The firm’s Personal Injury team is currently seeking compensation for the families of two peritoneal mesothelioma sufferers.

    In both cases, the sufferers were men significantly younger than the typical age of 75+ for pleural mesothelioma. The first, a Lincolnshire man in his early 40s and the second, a Maidstone, Kent man in his early 50s.

    In both cases, tragically, mesothelioma was only diagnosed very late on, meaning the men  did not receive treatment that could have prolonged their lives.

    The Maidstone case is currently undergoing investigation with US medical experts. It has already been revealed that a year before his diagnosis and death from mesothelioma, he had been diagnosed and successfully treated for colo-rectal and kidney cancers. With hindsight it seems likely that those cancers were secondary to already established peritoneal mesothelioma.

    Unfortunately, the nature of the initial symptoms and the difficulty of detecting it meant that it was likely that the  secondary abdominal cancers were picked up and treated before the real culprit. By the time the peritoneal mesothelioma was detected (and could have been treated) it was unfortunately far too late to do anything about it, and by then was so advanced that he tragically lost his life within two weeks.

    Unfortunately, what did not help with earlier diagnosis was his complete ignorance of any asbestos exposure history. In our client’s case this seems to have been through US-manufactured talc and face powders. In a decades long scandal, it was discovered that many talc and face powders made in the US (which were also used in the UK) contained asbestos traces potentially sufficient to cause mesothelioma in regular users.

    If that risk had been appreciated perhaps his treating doctors might have asked the right questions sooner prompting an earlier peritoneal biopsy, which would have detected this disease and enabled him to get treatment.

    If so with the right treatment, although the disease would still have killed him, he may have still been alive today and making the most of his remaining precious time with his wife and children whilst he put his affairs in order.

    About the author

    Jeremy Horton specialises in asbestos compensation claims and is the only APIL Accredited Occupational and Asbestos Disease Specialist solicitor in Kent, Medway, Essex, Surrey and Sussex. He is passionate about helping asbestos disease victims and their families achieve fair compensation as quickly as possible.

    Further support

    If you or a loved one is suffering from mesothelioma, please get in touch with Jeremy or one of our friendly team today.

    You can also find further guidance and mesothelioma support via Mesothelioma UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, and Cancer Research.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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