Pericardial mesothelioma is the rarest form of a rare disease, accounting for as few as 1% of diagnoses of the disease most associated with asbestos exposure. Some researchers estimate that pericardial mesothelioma may make up about 6% of the total cases, but this is still just 180 cases in the United States. However, the small numbers belie the seriousness of the disease: about 60% of patients diagnosed with the disease succumb to it within six months.
While pericardial mesothelioma is by far the rarest form of the disease, it continues to be a threat. Many people erroneously assume that the United States’ ban on most commercial uses of asbestos has largely eliminated new mesothelioma cases. This cannot be further from the truth. Mesothelioma has a long dormancy period, and it can be decades between when a patient is first exposed to asbestos and when he or she first exhibits symptoms of the disease.
Understanding the Pericardial Structure
Pericardial mesotheliom forms in the pericardium, a mesothelial membrane that surrounds the heart, giving support and protection to one of the body’s most vital organs. This membrane is made up of two layers; the outer layer is called the parietal layer (also known as the theca cordis), while the inner layer surrounding the heart itself is called the visceral layer (also known as the epicardium). The theca cordis is part of a larger membrane package that surrounds the entire abdominal area, providing cushioning to the organs contained there.
Pericardial mesothelioma develops when asbestos particles become trapped between the two layers of the membrane. Mesothelioma has a very long dormancy phase, with patients often going decades between exposure and diagnosis. If you have developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure, contact the mesothelioma lawyers of Williams Kherkher today.
Diagnosing Pericardial Mesothelioma
Because of the long latency period, diagnosing pericardial mesothelioma may be difficult. By the time some of the most common symptoms arrive, the disease is likely in its last, most deadly stages. The most commonly reported symptoms are:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Chronic chest pain
- Heart murmurs
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic coughing
- Night sweats
Because the symptoms of mesothelioma are not specific to the disease, a quick, accurate diagnosis is difficult. Doctors usually analyze a person’s medical history before running imaging tests. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is one of the most effective methods of visually examining the site. If cancer appears to be present, a biopsy will confirm or deny the suspicion.
Treating Pericardial Mesothelioma
Unlike the pleural and peritoneal forms of mesothelioma, surgery is not an effective option for treating pericardial mesothelioma, due to the delicateness of the heart.
Unfortunately, there are few truly effective ways to treat pericardial mesothelioma. Radiation therapy can help slow the spread of the cancer, but is often not enough to kill the cancerous cells. This treatment is often used in conjuncture with chemotherapy, which can help increase the effectiveness of the radiation therapy. However, both radiation and chemotherapy come with the risk of killing healthy cells as well as cancerous cells, which poses a number of serious health-related side effects.
Another treatment option is called fine needle aspiration, which involves removing excess fluid which gathers in the pericardium. While this treatment does not necessarily combat the cancer itself, it can help relieve some of the painful symptoms associated with mesothelioma.
If pericardial mesothelioma is diagnosed early enough, surgery may be used to remove parts of the affected area. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy can be used to kill the remaining cancerous cells.