Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops from cells of the mesothelium, the lining that covers many of the internal organs of the body.

The main purpose of the mesothelium is to produce a lubricating fluid that is released between layers. This fluid provides a slippery and protective surface to allow movement between tissues and organs. For example, it allows the lungs or abdomen to expand and contract smoothly.

When the cells of the mesothelium turn cancerous they become mesothelioma. There are approximately 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in the United States every year. Sites of mesothelioma are typically the pleural cavity (outer lining of the lungs and chest wall) and peritoneal area (abdomen). Rare sites can also include the testis and the heart. Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma may include shortness of breath due to pleural effusion (fluid between the lung and the chest wall), chest wall pain and weight loss. Doctors will do a work-up which may include scans and a biopsy to diagnose mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos was used in thousands of industrial and consumer products. Construction materials, automotive parts and household products, such as oven mitts, contained asbestos in the past. Many companies continued using asbestos even after they knew of the potential dangers. As a result, compensation is available for mesothelioma victims, through worker’s compensation, trust funds, and lawsuits.

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Next: Causes of Mesothelioma