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Pericardial Mesothelioma - Cancer of the Heart Lining

Aug 17, 2007
Pericardial mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that affects the pericardium - the lining of tissue around the heart. It is the rarest form of mesothelioma, making up less than ten percent of mesothelioma cases. Like all forms of mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma has been linked to asbestos exposure.

Many people believe that mesothelioma is a cancer that only affects the lungs. In fact, mesothelioma is cancer of the serous membranes, which line the three organ cavities in the center of the body. Their function is to secrete fluids to cushion and lubricate the organs within those cavities.

The pleura encases the lungs in the chest cavity, and the lubrication provided by the pleural mesothelium also helps in breathing. The peritoneal cavity contains the stomach and other abdominal organs, and is lined by the peritoneum. The pericardial cavity contains the heart, and the serous membrane that protects and surrounds it is known as the pericardium.

What Is Pericardial Mesothelioma?
Cancer is generally defined by the organ or area of the body in which it originates. Thus cancer that originates in the pericardial mesothelium is called pericardial mesothelioma.

No one is quite certain why pericardial mesothelioma is the most rare of the three known types, but some doctors have suggested that it has to do with the way that asbestos fibers work their way into the body.

Since most asbestos fibers are inhaled, it is expected that the highest percentage of mesothelioma cases would involve the pleural cavities. Asbestos fibers may make their way into the stomach and abdominal lining when phlegm and mucous containing asbestos fibers is swallowed.

Since there is no direct pathway from outside the body to the pericardium, some doctors suggest that the tiny asbestos particles literally work their way from the lungs through the pleura to invade the pericardial mesothelium.

Others theorize that the smaller asbestos fibers are carried out of the lungs by the blood, and become lodged in the heart lining as the blood is pumped through the heart. In any case, once the asbestos fibers become lodged in the serous tissue surrounding the heart, they irritate the body's immune system and the chronic inflammation may cause the growth of cancerous tumors similar to those seen in pleural mesothelioma. The tumors may grow around the heart, constricting its movement and interfering with its functioning.

The Causes of Pericardial Mesothelioma
Because of the extreme rarity of this cancer, making a definitive link to any cause is difficult. There are less than two hundred cases of pericardial mesothelioma diagnosed per year, about ten percent of all mesothelioma cases.

Pericardial mesothelioma does seem to be strongly linked to asbestos exposure, as are the other forms of mesothelioma, though the connection is more difficult to establish because of the very small number of cases diagnosed and confirmed.

The Symptoms of Pericardial Mesothelioma
As the cancerous tumors grow and spread, the pericardial tissue expands and fluid accumulates around the heart. This can constrict the heart in its functioning and lead to chest pain and irregular heartbeat.

In most cases, pericardial mesothelioma is only discovered when it has advanced far enough to cause these physical symptoms. Occasionally, someone with pericardial mesothelioma may complain of other heart-related symptoms like shortness of breath and coughing.

Treatment for Pericardial Mesothelioma
Because the symptoms often do not become obvious until the cancer has reached the later stages of the disease, the treatment options are limited. The most common treatments recommended for this condition are surgery and radiation therapy, but the purpose is palliative (to relieve symptoms) rather than to remove or cure the cancer.

The prognosis for patients diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma is extremely poor, since the cancer is often so far advanced when it is discovered. Often, the life expectancy after diagnosis is only a couple of months.

Your Legal Rights
Because mesothelioma is linked to asbestos exposure, if you or a loved one have been diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma, you may have a legal right to compensation for your suffering and loss, as well as assistance with your medical expenses.

Companies who knowingly exposed their employees and the public to the dangers of asbestos have been held accountable for their actions by the courts, and have been forced to pay millions of dollars in compensation to those that were harmed by their recklessness and greed.

Unfortunately, the length of time between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms can make it difficult to prove an association with a particular product or company. A lawyer skilled in asbestos and mesothelioma negotiation often has access to resources that will help identify those who are responsible for your condition, and understands the laws surrounding mesothelioma claims and litigation.

If you are suffering because of the negligence of the asbestos industry, contact a mesothelioma lawyer to learn about your legal rights to seek compensation for your injuries.
About the Author
Tim Dillard is a marketing executive who has worked with some of the largest law firms in America. Dillard is currently the president of Dillard Local Branding (http://www.dlbllc.com), a Houston-based web design, Internet marketing and search engine marketing firm.
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