Mesothelioma is a cancer caused primarily by exposure to asbestos. The cancer attacks mesothelial cells that line and cover major organs in the body.
There are four main areas where the mesothelium can be affected by mesothelioma. These are the pleura which covers the lungs and cavity in the chest, the peritoneum which lines the organs in the abdomen, the pericardium which surrounds and holds the heart in place, and the tunica vaginalis which covers the testicles.
The most common forms of the cancer are pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma can be broken down into three sub-types depending on the arrangement of the cancerous cells. About 50 percent of all mesotheliomas are epithelioid and generally have a better prognosis for patients. A rarer type of cell arrangement is sarcomatoid, which accounts for about 10 percent of cases. Mixed or biphasic mesothelioma show both epithelioid and sarcomatoid arrangements and make up the remaining cases.
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