Pericardial mesothelioma attacks the pericardium, or the sac that surrounds the heart. While a healthy pericardium is able to support and protect the heart, pericardial mesothelioma causes fluid to build up and puts pressure on the heart. This pressure causes a number of symptoms including:
Pericardial mesothelioma is by far the rarest type of mesothelioma. Only about 200 cases of the disease have been reported worldwide, and only 25 percent of those were diagnosed before death.1 Because only a select few doctors have ever seen a case of pericardial mesothelioma in real life, this disease can be extremely difficult to diagnose.
To diagnose pericardial mesothelioma, a doctor will first collect a patient's full medical and asbestos history and conduct a thorough physical examination. He'll then conduct a number of scans including X-rays, CT scans and MRIs and collect a biopsy. The process of diagnosing pericardial mesothelioma by ruling out other diseases can take several months.
Because it is usually not caught until its latest stages, pericardial mesothelioma is extremely difficult to treat. Most of the treatment is designed to relieve the symptoms of the mesothelioma rather than cure the disease itself. Doctors have found that pericardial mesothelioma responds poorly to radiation, but may shrink when subjected to certain types of chemotherapy. Surgical removal of part of the pericardium can also relieve symptoms by relieving pressure on the heart.2
Like the pleural and peritoneal versions of this disease, pericardial mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. However, while it is easy to explain that pleural mesothelioma is caused by breathing asbestos fibers in the lungs, it is harder to explain how asbestos gets to the pericardium. Some researchers think that inhaled asbestos is able to travel through the bloodstream to the heart.3
Once it gets into the pericardium, asbestos can lay dormant for decades before causing mesothelioma symptoms. Individuals who have been exposed to asbestos and believe they may have pericardial mesothelioma should contact their doctor as soon as possible to schedule a consultation and checkup.