Written By: Karen Selby, RN,
Last modified: October 15, 2021

Peritoneal mesothelioma is a rare cancer that develops on the lining that surrounds the abdomen. It represents less than 20 percent of all mesothelioma cancers, with roughly 600 diagnoses each year in the U.S.

Because of where the cancer develops, the early signs of peritoneal mesothelioma resemble GI disorders. And because the cancer is so rare, most doctors don’t consider it as an option and may misdiagnosis it as a benign GI condition or colon cancer.

This can create a situation where the patient’s treatment is mismanaged, adding to a person’s cancer battle.

Having a GI disorder also can make the symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma worse.

Patients with pre-existing GI disorders or those who develop these conditions after a cancer diagnosis may experience more severe complications such as abdominal pain, diarrhea and bowel obstruction. This may make it more difficult to treat the cancer itself and its symptoms.

Many gastrointestinal disorders can be prevented or minimized by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Others may require prescription medications to keep the conditions under control or surgery to relieve the problem.

Types of Gastrointestinal Conditions

GI conditions fall into two categories: Functional disorders and structural disorders. Both types can further complicate the effects of peritoneal mesothelioma.

  • Functional GI Disorders: GI tract looks normal but doesn’t work properly.
  • Structural GI Disorders: Bowel looks abnormal and doesn’t work properly.

Functional GI Disorders

Functional disorders such as gas, bloating and constipation are temporary and easily treatable. Others may be recurring issues, such as acid reflux or irritable bowel syndrome.

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Intestinal disorder causing abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
  • Functional Diarrhea: Loose or watery bowel movements.
  • Functional Constipation: Persistent difficulty emptying the bowels.
  • Functional Abdominal Bloating with Distention: Constant feeling of fullness.

People can minimize these conditions by eating a diet high in fiber, avoiding caffeine, getting enough exercise and eating less dairy.

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Structural GI Disorders

Structural disorders are more serious, and their symptoms are typically more severe. Sometimes structural abnormalities require surgery.

Common Structural GI Disorders

  • Hemorrhoids: Swollen blood vessels that line the anal opening.
  • Anal Fissures: Splits or cracks in the lining of the anal opening.
  • Diverticular Disease: Presence of small, bulging pouches in the digestive tract.
  • Perianal Abscesses: Collection of pus in the tissue around the anus and rectum.
  • Anal Fistula: Infected tunnel between the skin and the anus.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Includes colitis and Crohn’s disease. Characterized by chronic inflammation of the GI tract.
  • Colorectal Cancer: A cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum.

Similarities Between Peritoneal Mesothelioma and GI Conditions

Doctors may misdiagnose peritoneal mesothelioma as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease or diverticular disease.

Even after diagnostic scans, doctors may misdiagnose it as colon cancer, depending on how far tumors have spread.

Symptoms That GI Disorders and Peritoneal Mesothelioma Share

  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • A feeling of fullness
  • Bloating or distention
  • Nausea or vomiting

Often, peritoneal mesothelioma patients don’t experience any symptoms until the cancer cells disseminate. When early signs arise, patients and doctors may dismiss it as a less serious condition.

Most cases of peritoneal mesothelioma are diagnosed in the later stages of the disease. This makes treating the cancer difficult.

It is important to know the signs of the cancer and seek a second opinion from a specialist who treats mesothelioma if you believe you have been misdiagnosed.


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