Malignant mesothelioma

Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases. 2008 Dec 19;3:34. [Link]

Moore AJ, Parker RJ, Wiggins J.

Department of Respiratory Medicine, Wexham Park Hospital, Wexham, Slough, Berkshire, UK.


Malignant mesothelioma is a fatal asbestos-associated malignancy originating from the lining cells (mesothelium) of the pleural and peritoneal cavities, as well as the pericardium and the tunica vaginalis. The exact prevalence is unknown but it is estimated that mesotheliomas represent less than 1% of all cancers. Its incidence is increasing, with an expected peak in the next 10-20 years. Pleural malignant mesothelioma is the most common form of mesothelioma. Typical presenting features are those of chest pain and dyspnoea. Breathlessness due to a pleural effusion without chest pain is reported in about 30% of patients. A chest wall mass, weight loss, sweating, abdominal pain and ascites (due to peritoneal involvement) are less common presentations. Mesothelioma is directly attributable to occupational asbestos exposure with a history of exposure in over 90% of cases. There is also evidence that mesothelioma may result from both para-occupational exposure and non-occupational “environmental” exposure. Idiopathic or spontaneous mesothelioma can also occur in the absence of any exposure to asbestos, with a spontaneous rate in humans of around one per million. A combination of accurate exposure history, along with examination radiology and pathology are essential to make the diagnosis. Distinguishing malignant from benign pleural disease can be challenging. The most helpful CT findings suggesting malignant pleural disease are 1) a circumferential pleural rind, 2) nodular pleural thickening, 3) pleural thickening of > 1 cm and 4) mediastinal pleural involvement. Involvement of a multidisciplinary team is recommended to ensure prompt and appropriate management, using a framework of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery and symptom palliation with end of life care. Compensation issues must also be considered. Life expectancy in malignant mesothelioma is poor, with a median survival of about one year following diagnosis.