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What is mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare form of lung cancer that usually arises in the tissue lining of the lungs, called the mesothelium. It can also start in the abdomen or other organs, but this is less common. Most people who develop mesothelioma have inhaled asbestos particles. It can take a very long time (30 to 50 years) between asbestos exposure and diagnosis.

Our approach

At Northwell Health Cancer Institute, you gain the advantage of a multidisciplinary team specialized in treating mesothelioma, including physicians from medical oncology, surgical oncology and radiation oncology. The physicians meet once a week to share ideas and review every step of your care during our interdisciplinary tumor board sessions. We come up with an individualized treatment plan for each unique person, which may include the following leading-edge therapies:

  • Minimally invasive, robotic-assisted surgery
  • Novel chemotherapies, targeted therapies and immunotherapy
  • Highly precise radiation therapy techniques, including intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)

Our goal is to provide the best long-term outcome, while preserving your lung tissue and functionality. Convenience is also a primary focus throughout your treatment. Every effort is made to collaborate your care in the most efficient way possible with the help of dedicated nurse navigators.

Research at Northwell

As part of your mesothelioma treatment plan, you also may have opportunities to participate in clinical trials. These trials study new chemotherapy drugs, radiation technologies and surgical approaches. While not every patient is a candidate for clinical trials, your care team will work with you to determine eligibility. Learn more about clinical trials at Northwell Health.

Symptoms

The following are the most common symptoms of lung diseases, regardless of the cause:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Abnormal breathing pattern

The symptoms of occupational lung diseases may resemble other medical conditions or problems.

Causes

Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, a mineral fiber that was added to certain products in the past for strengthening, heat insulation and fire resistance. Normally safe when combined with other materials, asbestos is hazardous to the lungs when the fibers become airborne (such as when a product deteriorates and crumbles). Today, most products are not made with asbestos. 

Risk factors

Mesothelioma is a malignancy that forms many years after initial exposure. Inhaling or swallowing asbestos, working or living in places with asbestos is a risk factor. Living with a household member working near asbestos is another risk factor.

Diagnosis

Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between malignant mesothelioma in the chest and other forms of lung cancer. The following tests and procedures may be used to diagnose malignant mesothelioma in the chest or peritoneum:

  • Physical exam and family health history—An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of your health habits, exposure to asbestos and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Chest X-ray — A type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, taking a picture of areas inside the body.
  • CT Scan (CAT Scan— A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of the chest and abdomen, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an X-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. 
  • Biopsy — The removal of cells or tissues from the pleura or peritoneum so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.

Treatment types

Our multidisciplinary team of specialists has unparalleled experience diagnosing and treating mesothelioma at one of the largest cancer centers in the New York metro area. We offer specialized therapies available at only a few cancer centers in the nation.

Five different types of treatment are:

  • Surgery—Used to remove the cancerous lining around the lung or abdominal organs.
  • Chemotherapy—Used to treat both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. The schedule of treatment depends on the type and stage of the disease.
  • Targeted therapy—A treatment that targets mesothelioma’s specific genes, proteins or tissue environment that contribute to its growth and survival. Because not all tumors have the same targets, your oncologist may run tests to identify genes, proteins or other factors in your tumor. This can help identify the best treatment possible.
  • Immunotherapy—Enables the body’s natural defenses to fight mesothelioma (also called biologic or biotherapy).
  • Radiation therapy—Used before surgery to shrink the size of a stomach tumor or following surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.
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