Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a cancer arising from the cells covering the surface of the lung and lining the chest wall.

Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma is a similar cancer arising from the surface covering of the bowel or the lining of the abdominal cavity (stomach).Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer. Usually the chances of getting this disease are one to two in a million per year. This disease seems to occur after less exposure to asbestos dust than do other asbestos related diseases, and may take up to 40 years or more to show itself after first exposure.

It is thought to be caused by the body’s reaction to the needle like fibres of asbestos piercing the lining of the lung or abdomen.

Malignant mesothelioma frequently results in the accumulation of large amounts of fluid in the chest or abdominal cavities. This tends to cause breathlessness or distension of the abdomen. The cancer cells also tend to invade the normal tissues of the lung and chest wall. In the chest wall this causes chest pain which may be severe.

The current accepted standard care for mesothelioma is combination chemotherapy, usually using a drug called pemetrexed, in combination with either cisplatin or carboplatin. This combination has been shown to prolong life expectancy and improve symptoms and quality of life for people with pleural mesothelioma.

Radiotherapy can also be useful to treat focussed areas of disease that are causing specific symptoms, for example, pain or a lump. Surgery for malignant mesothelioma is controversial and as yet remains unproven, because it has never been possible to totally remove all the cancer cells.

New approaches to treatment, including immunotherapy and combinations of surgery with chemotherapy and /or radiotherapy, are being examined in clinical trials. New treatments should be examined in well designed and properly conducted clinical trials before becoming part of standard care.

Click here to watch Professor Bruce Robinson talk about the diagnosis and treatment of asbestos-related diseases such as mesolethioma.