When people refer to the different types of mesothelioma, they are usually talking about the different places in the body where mesothelioma develops. But things can get a little confusing because there are different cell types of mesothelioma which may arise in each location too.
These factors affect your prognosis. Your oncologist considers them when creating your treatment plan.
Key Facts about the Types of Mesothelioma
- Mesothelioma is most likely to develop in the lining surrounding the lungs or abdomen
- The most common cell type, epithelioid, is also the most responsive to treatment
- Treatment is tailored to your specific type of mesothelioma, right down to the microscopic cells that make up the cancer
- Clinical trials may recruit participants based on their type of mesothelioma
Between 2,000 and 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the U.S. But, incidence varies from year to year. A 2015 study looked at mesothelioma incidences from 2003 to 2008 and found that 85 percent of cases were pleural and 7 percent were peritoneal.
The cell type of your cancer is identified during biopsy testing. This step is important to accurately identify and treat malignant mesothelioma.
The treatment plan your doctor recommends will depend mostly on the location of your cancer. Your cell type, age, overall health and cancer stage will play a role.
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Four Types of Mesothelioma by Location
The type of mesothelioma you are diagnosed with is named after the place it developed. For example, when the cancer forms in the pleural lining around the lungs, it is called pleural mesothelioma.
Each type of mesothelioma causes different symptoms. Treatment is tailored by type, and the prognosis varies as well.
- Location: Pleural lining
- Symptoms: Breathlessness, chest pain, fever and fatigue
- Prognosis: 3+ years at stage 1 vs. 12 months at stage 4
Pleural is the most common type of mesothelioma, accounting for approximately 75 percent of cases. More research has been conducted on this type than the other types. Most patients qualify for chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. These therapies can add months or years to life expectancy.
- Location: Lining of the abdomen
- Symptoms: Abdominal pain and swelling, bloating and bowel changes
- Prognosis: 52 percent live at least five years after surgery with HIPEC
Peritoneal accounts for 10 to 20 percent of cases. Even though less research has been conducted on this type compared to pleural, the prognosis for peritoneal is better. Studies show around half of patients who have surgery and heated chemotherapy (HIPEC) live longer than five years.
- Location: Lining of heart
- Symptoms: Irregular heartbeat, chest pain, difficulty breathing and cough
- Prognosis: Typically ranges from six weeks to 15 months
The pericardial type is extremely rare. Around 200 cases are reported in medical literature. Surgery helps some patients live for years beyond the average six-month survival rate.
- Location: Forms in the tunica vaginalis, which is the lining covering a testicle
- Symptoms: Scrotal swelling, painless testicular lumps
- Prognosis: 2 years
Testicular mesothelioma develops in the tunica vaginalis, which is the lining of the testes. Less than 100 cases are reported in medical literature. Treatment involves surgery and chemotherapy, which helps people live more than two years on average.
Three Types of Mesothelioma Cells
There are three types of cells that compose mesothelioma tumors:
Epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells respond differently to treatment. Epithelial cells respond the best, and sarcomatoid cells are more resistant to treatment. This difference is why doctors consider your cell type when recommending a treatment plan. Incidence of these cell types varies depending upon location.
Pericardial mesothelioma appears to have a roughly equal distribution of the three cell types. Approximately two-thirds of testicular mesothelioma cases involve epithelioid cells. The rest of testicular cases are biphasic. Only one case of purely sarcomatoid cells is reported in testicular mesothelioma.
Certain subtypes of these cells are correlated with different types of mesothelioma. For example:
- Well-differentiated papillary cells occur most commonly in abdominal mesothelioma. Only a handful of cases have been reported in people with other types of mesothelioma.
- Small cell mesothelioma is another cell type that occurs more commonly in the abdomen.
- A little more than half of the cases of deciduoid mesothelioma occur in the abdomen. Slightly less than half arise in the lung lining.
- Cystic and papillary cells are more common in peritoneal mesothelioma.
- Desmoplastic and lymphohistiocytoid are more common in pleural mesothelioma.
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Treatment Tailored to Your Type of Mesothelioma
The type of mesothelioma you are diagnosed with will influence your treatment options. Different treatments are used depending upon the location of your cancer.
Surgery to remove tumors is different for each type of mesothelioma. Extrapleural pneumonectomy and pleurectomy and decortication are used to remove pleural tumors. Peritoneal tumors are removed with a peritonectomy. Pericardial tumors are removed with a pericardiectomy. Testicular tumors are removed with an inguinal orchiectomy.
Different chemotherapy drugs are used to treat pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. Cisplatin and pemetrexed is the most effective treatment against pleural mesothelioma. Combinations of gemcitabine, pemetrexed, mitomycin and carboplatin are most effective against peritoneal mesothelioma. No particular chemotherapy regimen is consistently effective for pericardial or testicular mesothelioma. The two latter types of mesothelioma are so rare that they have not been available for studies.
Different approaches to radiation therapy are used for all types of mesothelioma. In pleural mesothelioma, radiation therapy is used when surgery is an option or when tumors have invaded the chest wall. Radiation therapy hasn’t proven successful or very safe for peritoneal mesothelioma. But it has been used successfully to treat pericardial and testicular mesothelioma.
Different procedures are used to drain fluid buildup from around the lungs and abdomen. Fluid around the lungs is drained with a thoracentesis. A paracentesis is used to drain fluid from the abdomen.
Your cancer’s cell type influences treatment in a less direct way than the location. Instead, oncologists consider your cell type when deciding how aggressively they can treat your cancer.
Patients with epithelial mesothelioma are more often considered for aggressive treatment plans because their cell type responds the best. Patients with sarcomatoid cells are less often considered for aggressive treatment.
Other factors, such as the stage of your cancer, your age and overall health, play a role in which treatments are recommended. Surgery is recommended to early-stage patients who are younger and in good health. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy are available to every patient regardless of stage or age.
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Last Modified April 8, 2019