Mesothelioma: What Is Malignant Mesothelioma Cancer?


Mesothelioma is an aggressive, malignant cancer caused when inhaled asbestos fibers lodge in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Symptoms can include shortness of breath and chest pain. The life expectancy for most mesothelioma patients is approximately 12 months after diagnosis. Treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.


A biopsy is the only test that can confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.
CT scan image shows pleural thickening and pleural effusion, which are symptoms of malignant mesothelioma.

Imaging tests, such as CT scans, PET scans and X-rays, are also used with the biopsy to identify the location of tumors and evaluate their progression and growth, which is known as stage of the cancer.

If tumors are cancerous, doctors will diagnose this as malignant mesothelioma. They may simply call it mesothelioma. Doctors may discover that tumors are noncancerous. In that case, they will diagnose it as benign mesothelioma.

An early mesothelioma cancer diagnosis may increase a patient’s eligibility and access to all treatment options.


Asbestos exposure is the primary
cause of mesothelioma .

How Mesothelioma Develops

1. A person inhales or swallows airborne asbestos fibers.

2. The asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart.

3. The embedded fibers damage the mesothelial cells and cause inflammation.

4. Over time, tumors begin to form on the damaged mesothelium, which is the lining of the abdomen, lung, heart and testes.


The stages of mesothelioma , which range from 1 to 4, are based on tumor size and location.

Stage 1 

The cancer is localized. Surgery is most effective at this stage. Survival rate is higher. Median life expectancy at stage 1 is 22.2 months. 

Stage 2 

Tumors have started to spread from the original location into adjacent structures. Surgery is still an option. Median life expectancy at stage 2 is 20 months. 

Stage 3 

Cancer has progressed to a more advanced stage with spread into the regional lymph nodes. Surgery may still be an option. Median life expectancy at stage 3 is 17.9 months. 

Stage 4 

Cancer has spread extensively in the area where it developed. Chemotherapy and immunotherapy control symptoms and prolong survival. Median life expectancy at stage 4 is 14.9 months or less.


There are four types of mesothelioma cancer based on where it develops in the body: Pleural, pericardial, peritoneal, and testicular mesothelioma.

Additionally, there are three types of cells found in mesothelioma tumors: Epithelioid, sarcomatoid, and biphasic. Prognosis, symptoms and treatment options vary based on both the location and cell type.

Pleural Mesothelioma

  • 75% of cases
  • Forms on soft tissue covering the lungs
  • Best treated with a multimodal approach

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

  • Less than 20% of cases
  • Forms on the outer lining of the abdomen
  • Treated by surgery and chemotherapy

Pericardial Mesothelioma

  • 1% of cases
  • Forms on soft tissue around the heart
  • Best treated with a multimodal approach

Testicular Mesothelioma

  • Less than 1% of cases
  • Develops on the lining of the testes
  • Responds best to surgery


Mesothelioma cancer is treated with conventional therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. But not every patient is eligible for each type of
mesothelioma treatment . Some patients also opt for emerging cancer treatments, including clinical trials, and alternative therapies.

Conventional Therapies


  • Offers greatest chance of survival
  • Used for diagnosing, removing tumors or easing pain
  • Eligible patients have strong health and limited cancer spread


  • More than 70% of patients undergo chemotherapy
  • Strong drugs shrink tumors and kill cancer cells

Radiation Therapy

  • Reduces pain from growing tumors
  • Combined with surgery and chemotherapy
  • Used at any cancer stage

Emerging Treatments

Clinical Trials

  • Patients can access experimental therapies
  • Provide researches scientific information to develop new treatments


  • Experimental treatments use the immune system to fight the cancer
  • Primarily performed in clinical trials

Alternative Treatments

  • Use herbal medicines, mind-body therapies, holistic healing and other complementary therapies


The prognosis for mesothelioma is not good. The life expectancy for most patients is about 12 months after diagnosis.

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