What Is a Mesothelioma Tumor?

A mesothelioma tumor is a clump of mesothelial cells that can occur following the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers. The tumors can occur near the lungs, abdomen, heart, or testes.

Doctor point at a mesothelioma tumor on an x-ray image.

What is Mesothelioma?

A mesothelioma tumor occurs when a patient has mesothelioma cancer. Mesothelioma is a group of cancers that forms in the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a protective membrane surrounding the lungs, abdomen, heart, and testes. The sites of mesothelioma are pleural (chest cavity), peritoneal (abdominal cavity), and pericardium (thoracic cavity). 

Both the life expectancy and the five-year survival rate is generally poor following a mesothelioma diagnosis. Nearly half of mesothelioma patients do not live past one year following a diagnosis. Early detection gives a patient the best chance for curative treatment options or a longer life expectancy. Early signs of the disease include chest pain, shortness of breath, or fluid in the lung area.

The most common site of mesothelioma is pleural, affecting the chest cavity and lungs. 85 percent of mesothelioma cases are pleural, followed by peritoneal and pericardial. Men make up a majority of mesothelioma cases, while the average age of people diagnosed in the U.S. is 72 years old.

Asbestos exposure accounts for the cause of most mesothelioma cases. When loose asbestos fibers or dust enter the body through inhalation or ingestion, the substance can travel deep into the respiratory pathways, where it becomes lodged in the mesothelium tissue. Over time, the fibers cause inflammation followed by tissue scarring. After scar tissue damages DNA, healthy mesothelial cells can mutate into cancerous ones. The change in DNA sparks an uncontrollable amount of cancerous cell replication, leading to mesothelioma tumor growth. It can take up to 50 years for mesothelioma tumors to develop following exposure to asbestos.

Understanding What a Mesothelioma Tumor Is

Tumors form as a result of the overproduction of mesothelial cells that clump together. A mesothelioma tumor can be detected throughout multiple sites after mesothelial cells are damaged by the outcome of lodged asbestos fibers. 

As cancer spreads throughout the body, the original tumor grows and spreads, sometimes accompanied by the formation of separate mesothelioma tumors. The tumors form into many microsocial masses rather than other types of cancer tumors.

Mesothelioma tumors can grow slightly but will remain small as they continue replicating and forming new clumps. The process of mesothelioma tumors and cells spreading across the body is called mesothelioma metastasis. The small tumors are difficult to remove, making curative treatment limited.

Determining The Type of Mesothelioma Tumor

There are two types of mesothelioma tumors. Malignant tumors are cancerous tumors that replicate and spread throughout the body. Mesothelioma tumors that are malignant can damage nearby tissue and organs. Benign tumors are non-active tumors that are not actively replicating or spreading. 

Malignant mesothelioma tumors contain various types of cells depending on the site of cancer. The two types of mesothelioma tumor cells are called epithelioid and sarcomatoid. In some cases, mesothelioma tumors are biphasic, meaning they contain both types of cells. The different types of cells present in a tumor can affect a patient’s prognosis and treatment plan. 

Epithelioid and Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma Tumors

More than half of all mesothelioma tumors contain epithelioid cells, while 25 percent are sarcomatoid, and 15 percent are biphasic. Patients with epithelioid tumors typically have a better prognosis as the tumors originate in the lining of an organ. Sarcomatoid tumors are difficult to treat because they begin forming in the bone or soft tissues and metastasize quicker than epithelioid cells.

Treatment for Mesothelioma Tumors

Mesothelioma tumors can be extremely difficult to treat, resulting in a poor prognosis for most patients. Patients with epithelioid mesothelioma tumors are often treated with a multimodal plan, combining multiple therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation. Curative treatments such as surgery remove mesothelioma tumors. Patients likely undergo radiation treatment following a surgical procedure. The radiation aims to kill any remaining tumors in the body.

Many mesothelioma patients are not eligible for curative treatment options like surgery. Instead, they may undergo palliative treatments that reduce pain and breathing difficulties. Researchers constantly attempt to develop better treatment options to increase a patient’s life expectancy and improve the overall quality of life.

Seeking Financial Assistance Through the VA

Veterans risk developing mesothelioma more than anyone who has come into contact with asbestos, due to the significant use of the toxin by the United States Military prior to the 1980s. Former service members make up about 30 percent of mesothelioma cases.

Financial assistance and legal compensation are available to qualifying veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. Patients who were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military can file for VA benefits to cover hospital costs, loss of income, or other services.

Diseases caused by asbestos exposure that qualify for VA benefits can include:

  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Stomach Cancer
  • Colon Cancer
  • Asbestosis
  • Pleural Effusion
  • Pleural Plaques

Veterans with mesothelioma must meet certain criteria for financial assistance eligibility. The qualify for VA benefits, patients must:

  • Have served in any branch of the military, Reserve, or National Guard
  • Prove they have an asbestos-related disease
  • Prove their disease was caused by exposure to asbestos while on military property
  • Developed a disability-related to their time spent serving
  • Not have been dishonorably discharged

Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma can learn more about applying for veterans benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans may also qualify for legal compensation by taking action against the asbestos companies responsible for their exposure. Legal action can occur in the form of a personal injury lawsuit or a wrongful death claim.