Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure. There are three distinct types of mesothelioma, which affect the lining of the lungs, the lining of the abdomen and, in rare cases, the protective tissue that surrounds the heart. These three types of mesothelioma are known as pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma and pericardial mesothelioma. Mesothelioma tumors can be benign and treated easily or malignant and difficult to eradicate. Mesothelioma is found primarily on the mesothelium membrane, which surrounds the abdominal cavity and the chest cavity. In the United States, approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year. According to statistics, approximately 2,100 new cases of pleural mesothelioma are confirmed every year while the remaining 900 cases are classified as peritoneal mesothelioma. Pericardial mesothelioma, which can gradually stop the heart, accounts for less than 10 percent of all mesothelioma cases.
In addition to the three regional forms of mesothelioma that affect the lungs, abdomen and heart, there are three types of cell configurations that require separate treatment methods and respond to different pharmacological agents. These common mesothelioma cell types include epithelioid cells that are uniform, fibrous sarcomatoid that emerge from muscle and bones, and biphasic cells that include a mix of both types. Mesothelioma statistics show that epithelioid cells are found in 50 percent of patients, biphasic cells are found in 40 percent of patients and sarcomatoid cells are found in the remaining ten percent. Biopsies of tumors from the lungs or abdomen are collected for analysis by a pathologist, who can identify the cell type and direct doctors toward the most effective treatment. Patients with epithelial tumors generally have better long-term survival rates than patients with sarcomatoid or biphasic cells. Approximately 40 percent of patients with no lymph node involvement and those with epithelioid tumors exceed a five-year life expectancy. Survival rates for mesothelioma patients vary by type and progression. Those that receive an early-stage diagnosis have the best survival rates.
Survival rates for patients with peritoneal mesothelioma are slightly better than those with pleural mesothelioma. Statistics show that 34 percent of patients with peritoneal mesothelioma achieve a one-year life expectancy compared to 24 percent of patients with pleural mesothelioma. In an Italian study, researchers tracked 120 patients with pleural mesothelioma who underwent traditional trimodality therapies, including radical lung surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. After two years, 45 percent of patients were doing well and more than 20 percent of the study's participants achieved a survival rate of five years. Staging for patients with pleural mesothelioma is determined using the TNM standard in conjunction with the International Mesothelioma Interest Group (IMIG) system. Staging patients with peritoneal mesothelioma is more difficult and typically involves a standard analysis to determine the size and location of tumors, lymph node involvement and whether the cancer has metastasized. New diagnostic procedures involving biomarkers and computer imaging are helping doctors detect mesothelioma earlier while pathological research is helping scientists understand the mutations that make different types of mesothelioma difficult to eradicate.
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