There are two main types of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. The type you have depends on which kind of tissue the cancer begins in.
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma, accounting for about 75 percent of all cases diagnosed in the United States. It affects the pleura, a membrane that covers your lungs. Sometimes pleural mesothelioma spreads (metastasizes) and affects your outer chest wall, lymph nodes, and other parts of the body. MSK pathologists played a leading role in advancing the methods for making a precise diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma, including defining specific subtypes that determine the best treatment.
Over the past two decades, MSK clinicians conducted studies to develop a multipronged approach to treating this disease, combining surgery to remove cancerous tissue with chemotherapy, immunotherapy and/or radiation treatment. Our radiation oncologists have developed cutting-edge techniques, such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). IMRT allows us to target tumors along the entire pleura (membrane) very precisely while minimizing damage to nearby organs.
Diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma is often missed because of the long time it takes to develop and the variety of symptoms it causes. Quick and accurate diagnosis is very important with pleural mesothelioma so that valuable months and even years aren’t lost for giving you the best treatments and opportunities for possibly taking part in clinical trials.
Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the tissue (membrane) that covers and helps lubricate your abdominal organs. This tissue also helps keep the organs in place. Peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for 10 to 20% of new mesothelioma cases diagnosed in the United States each year.
In most cases, experts are still not sure why people develop peritoneal mesothelioma. Asbestos and radiation exposure are risk factors. So is having chronic peritoneal inflammation. However, most people have no risk factors. Because peritoneal mesothelioma is rare, it sometimes goes undiagnosed for long stretches of time.
The major subtypes of peritoneal mesothelioma are:
- epithelial mesothelioma
- sarcomatoid mesothelioma
- mixed (also known as biphasic) mesothelioma
- well-differentiated papillary mesothelioma
If your doctor suspects that you have peritoneal mesothelioma, you can meet with one of our mesothelioma specialists, who are experienced in diagnosing and treating this condition. He or she will examine you and work with an MSK pathologist with expertise in determining which subtype you may have.
Once your treatment team has identified your peritoneal mesothelioma subtype, we can prescribe a treatment plan customized for you. For example, within the epithelial subtype alone, there are varying grades of disease. And if you have the subtype known as well-differentiated papillary mesothelioma, you may need limited treatment, such as monitoring with a radiology test.
Other Mesothelioma Types
Less-common types of mesothelioma include pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the lining surrounding the heart, and testicular mesothelioma.