What Exactly is Pericardial Mesothelioma?

Pericardial Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer. Originates in the pericardium, the protective lining of the heart. It is considered one of the hardest to treat because the lining is so close to the heart. Fewer than 20,000 cases per year in the U.S. are diagnosed.

Usually, the cancer is discovered during the time of surgery or at autopsy. The average prognosis is poor. The reason being is that the symptoms are infrequent and non-specific – meaning the symptoms could be assigned to a variety of different health conditions.

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Pericardial Mesothelioma: Signs and Symptoms

Early detection is a key factor in extending the life expectancy for those diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma. Unfortunately, the signs are confused for other health conditions and can often be overlooked. Exposure to asbestos may increase the possibility of developing mesothelioma. These are some of the most common signs associated with pericardial mesothelioma:

  • Dyspnea- Difficulty Breathing
  • Arrhythmia/Heart Palpitations
  • Heart Murmurs
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Weight Loss
  • Chest Pain
  • Cardiac Tamponade
  • Pericardial Effusion
  • Night Sweats
  • Cough

Pericardial Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural occurring mineral comprised of six silicate-crystals. They are found in long, thin, and fibrous. You can find asbestos in rock and other minerals, most notably, vermiculite. Asbestos is primarily used as a fire-retardant insulator for items such as brake-linings, and home insulation. Many homes built prior to 1980 contained asbestos in floor tiles, boilers, ducts, pipes, and in sheet rock.

Exposure to the asbestos happens when the fibers are disturbed such as in home-renovations. Even simple applications such as drilling or patching a wall can result in the disturbance of asbestos. The fibers float through the air and can be inhaled easily without knowledge. The most common three areas of asbestos exposure are:

  • Job or Occupation Related Asbestos Exposure
  • Transfer or Secondhand Asbestos Exposure
  • Organic (Natural) Unrealized Asbestos Exposure

What is the link between mesothelioma and asbestos?

A significant portion of mesothelioma cases can be traced directly back to asbestos exposure. Researchers continue to try and identify the exact link between asbestos exposure and malignant hart cancer. Studies determine that there is a connection between the inhaled fibers and their ability to reach the heart cavity.

What is the Procedure for Diagnosing Pericardial Mesothelioma?

The symptoms for pericardial mesothelioma are similar for those of other conditions as well. The doctor will be sure to take in your complete health history, complaints, test results before assigning a diagnosis of this magnitude. Chest pain and similar symptoms will more than likely begin with routine physical exam, blood work and an echo gram of the heart and chest area.

Other testing modalities may be administered to diagnose pericardial mesothelioma. The most common procedures include:

  • CT Scan: (computed topography) A tool that allows doctors to see inside your body.
  • PET Scan: An imaging tool (positron emission topography) that measures the health and function of your organ and tissues.
  • Biopsy: This involves a surgical technique to remove tissue from the body for analyzing.

What Are the Diagnostic Stages of Mesothelioma?

Stage 1. There is no spread to the lymph nodes and the cancer is localized to one area of the body. This is the optimal stage for patients because the cancer is caught early and have the most treatment options.

Stage 2.
There are signs of the cancer metastasizing to other places in the body. This is still a good stage for aggressive treatment options.

Stage 3.
The cancer has spread to nearby tissues, organs, and possibly distant lymph nodes. This is the stage where most mesothelioma cases are diagnosed and life expectancy this point is estimated at 16 months.

Stage 4.
The cells have metastasized and spread to distant areas of the body including lymph nodes, the brain, the prostrate, spine and or lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma). This is the final stage of cancer and is considered to be terminal. Treatment is focused upon quality of life, pain control, and extending life as long as possible. The life expectancy at this stage is estimated at 1 year.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Treatment and Therapeutic Options

Pericardiectomy

Because of the latency period, pericardial mesothelioma typically has a delayed diagnostic window that limits treatment options. The first line of treatment usually includes a pericardiectomy or tumor removal.

Radiation

Radiation therapy is said by expert oncologists to have little effect on mesothelioma type cancers. However, there is possibly of extending survival by performing a procedure called pericardial resection and then using radiotherapy with isotopes.

Immunomodulation Therapies

Immunotherapy is the administering of certain types of drugs that are given in such a way to modulate the role of the immune system. This methodology is changing the way we approach cancer treatments in the way it is finding ways to help the body help itself. Clinical trials show promising results for treatment of certain cancers.

Chemotherapy

The second area of targeted treatment is systemic chemotherapy. There are also significant treatment efforts to treat pleural effusion which is a secondary condition often caused my malignant pericardial mesothelioma.

Adjuvant Therapies

An adjunctive therapy is used to assist or supplement another type of treatment option. The school of thought behind adjunctive therapy is that two treatment modalities is more effective to try and lyse cancer cells is more effective at slowing the rate of metastasizing cells.

Palliative Treatments

In most cases, pericardial mesothelioma is associated with stage 4 diagnosis and palliative (supportive) care options are the main treatment choices. Palliative treatments include pain control and other avenues to prevent patient suffering. Surgery is often not possible in cases of pericardial mesothelioma, but other procedures may be performed to help alleviate pressure and fluid from the surrounding area. (pleural-effusion)

Prognosis

The prognosis for pericardial mesothelioma is considered in most cases to be poor. Primary malignant pericardial mesothelioma has a very low life expectancy rate with the averages ranging from 6 months – 2 years after being diagnosed. Many factors play a role in the overall survival rate such as age, gender, stage and the state of generalized health at time diagnosis.

Outlook for the Future– Is There a Cure for Pericardial Mesothelioma on the Horizon?

There isn’t a cure for Pericardial Mesothelioma. Researchers are still trying to find effective ways to combat pericardial mesothelioma and positively impact patient outcomes. A few of the notable treatments involved in various stages of clinical trials are:

Vaccine Therapy

Vaccine therapy is involves using immune enhancing drugs in a way to facilitate the lysing of cancer cells or tumors. It is shown to also slow the growth of existing tumors and prevent new ones from forming.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is also referred to as biological therapy. This type of therapy enlists the help from the body’s own immune system to help fight cancer. Immunotherapy involves delivering certain substances inside the body (sometimes man made in a laboratory) to improve and/or restore immune function.

Gene Therapy

This is the process of inserting a specific gene into the patient’s cells to treat a disorder of the blood or body. It works by either replacing a gene, inactivating a gene, or introducing a new gene to body. So far, the evidence is highlighting a promise towards inherited disorders. Gene therapy for the treatment of cancers is something that is still being investigated and tested.

Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy involves using a photosensitive drug paired with a special light. When the photosensitizers are exposed to a certain wavelength of light, they form an oxygen that kills nearby (cancer) cells. The problem associated with PDT is that while it is effective against some specific cancer types, the wavelength of light can only pass through 1/3 of an inch of skin. This means for hard to reach or penetrate tumors such as in the case of pericardial mesothelioma – it may be an effective treatment option.

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