Malignant Pericardial Mesothelioma is extremely rare form of mesothelioma cancer that makes up 5 percent of all mesothelioma cases. Until now, less than 150 cases have been presented in medical literature and about 200 cases have been reported worldwide.
Pericardial mesothelioma is basically mesothelioma of the heart wall. It develops in the pericardium, a membrane made up of mesothelial cells that surrounds the heart and provides protection and support to this organ. The membrane is made of two layers: an outer layer that is called the parietal and an inner layer called visceral. The parietal layer is part of a larger membrane that lines the chest cavity, and the visceral layer is the pericardial membrane that lines the heart. Diseases associated with asbestos may take from ten to forty years before symptoms of the disease appear. The symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma are: shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations of the heart and bad cough.
It is common knowledge that pleural mesothelioma, which starts in the lining of the lungs, is caused by breathing of asbestos fibers. However, the way in which asbestos starts the development of pericardial mesothelioma is not known at this time. Some researchers think that inhaled asbestos fibers are introduced through the bloodstream from the lungs to the heart, although there is no sure evidence to support this idea. Asbestos fibers somehow get into and become lodged in the pericardial membranes that surround the heart. When this happens, the body begins to experiences problems with getting rid of the asbestos fibers and they can remain trapped in the membranes. After some time, maybe over two decades or more, the trapped asbestos fibers cause the cells of the pericardium to deform that may result in the cancer.
Treatment for this type of mesothelioma is almost purely palliative. This type of treatment is performed to improve quality of life in patients, and reduces the severity of symptoms caused by the build-up of fluid in the pericardium. About 50% of pericardial mesothelioma victims die from the disease within six months of discovery. A patient survived five years following treatment of partial surgical resection and radiation. Another patient survived one year after a similar treatment approach. Most diagnosed with this form of mesothelioma are not good candidates for cancer surgery. However, there are rare cases where the cancer is diagnosed early, and surgery can be carried out to remove small, localized pericardial tumors. This type of surgery carries great risk, simply due to the proximity of the heart.