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Learn about the different types of mesothelioma

Not all forms of mesothelioma are the same. Nearly all mesothelioma starts with asbestos exposure, but forms may vary according to location and cell type.

As the American Cancer Society explains, these cancers all affect the specialized cells that line your heart, lungs, abdomen and most of your internal organs. These cells create a lubricating fluid that allows the parts of your body to move against each other. Mesothelioma is a cancer in one of these linings.

Four different parts of the body

The different forms of mesothelioma are named according to the parts of the body in which they first appear. There are four primary locations, each of which presents its own symptoms:

  • The lungs and chest. These pleural mesotheliomas make up more than three-quarters of all cases. Symptoms include chest pains, persistent coughing, unexplained weight loss, blood clots and shortness of breath.
  • The abdomen. These peritoneal mesotheliomas comprise most of the remaining one-quarter cases. Symptoms include nausea, unexplained weight loss, fever, fatigue and abdominal swelling and pain.
  • The heart. This is pericardial mesothelioma. Symptoms may include chest pains, uneven heartbeats, fevers, night sweats and shortness of breath.
  • The testicles. Mesothelioma that begins in the lining around the testicles is known as mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis. Such tumors often first appear as lumps on the testicle.

Pericardial mesothelioma and mesothelioma of the tunic vaginalis are both extremely rare.

Three different types of cells

Mesotheliomas are also grouped by their cell types. There are three main groups. Each indicates how responsive to treatment a tumor may be:

  • Epithelioid. Epithelioid mesotheliomas feature larger, broader cells and tend to respond better to treatment. Most mesothelioma tumors are epithelioid.
  • Sarcomatoid. Sarcomatoid mesotheliomas feature longer, spindle-like cells. These cells tend to be more aggressive and harder to treat. They account for roughly 10 to 20 percent of all cases.
  • Biphasic (mixed). Biphasic mesotheliomas feature a mix of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. The aggressiveness and responsiveness of these tumors vary with the ratio of the two types of cells. These account for roughly 20 to 30 percent of all cases.

Every case is unique

As you can see, mesothelioma means more than one thing. Its symptoms and treatments vary according to its location and cell type. They also vary according to other factors, including the victim's age and general health.

Differences aside, there is one thing that remains true across the board. People fare best when they catch the cancer early. To help your doctor diagnose a potential mesothelioma tumor, you want to be sure to share your history of asbestos exposure or talc use. Without this information, your doctor may spend more time looking in other, more common directions before considering mesothelioma.

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