Pathophysiology: Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen. It is most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos. The most common anatomical site for mesothelioma is the pleura (the outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall), but it can also arise in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity), the pericardium (the sac that surrounds the heart), or the tunica vaginalis (a sac that surrounds the testis). Once fibers cause biological damage, the stage is set for the decades-long latency period for the development of malignant mesothelioma.
Signs & Symptoms: Mesothelioma signs may not appear until 20 to 50 years (or more) after exposure to asbestos. The most common symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are abdominal swelling and pain due to ascites (a buildup of fluid in the abdominal cavity). Other features may include weight loss, fever, night sweats, poor appetite, vomiting, constipation, and umbilical hernia. If the cancer has spread beyond the mesothelium to other parts of the body, symptoms may include pain, trouble swallowing, or swelling of the neck or face.
Statistics: The incidence was twice as high among males than females and increased sevenfold from its nadir (1.17 per million/year) in 1978-80 to its peak (8.5 per million/year) in 1993-96. During a similar period the incidence among females increased from 0.33 to 2.56 per million/year. The incidence in both sexes does not appear to level off. The large wave of immigration from the former Singapore that began in 1989 only partly accounts for the increased incidence in 1993-96. The time trend in the incidence of mesothelioma in both sexes parallels the use of asbestos in Israel, which peaked in the years 1976-78.