Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines and protects vital organs such as the heart, lungs and stomach, as well as the inner body wall. An uncommon but aggressive type of cancer, mesothelioma is most often caused by exposure to asbestos. There are three types of mesothelioma: pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the lung lining) accounting for 75 percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses; peritoneal mesothelioma (cancer of the mesothelium surrounding the abdomen); and pericardial mesothelioma (a rare cancer of the mesothelium around the heart).
Because it is so rare and symptoms often mimic those associated with other common problems, mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose. Pleural mesothelioma affects over 2,000 people a year in the U.S.; it is estimated that there will be 300,000 cases before the year 2030.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital was a founding member of The International Mesothelioma Program (IMP) when it was launched in 2002. The IMP is a collaborative research and treatment effort between Boston’s finest medical institutions: BWH, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Boston VA Health Care System and Harvard School of Public Health. The participating institutions combined goal is to develop treatment strategies that extend life, while also supporting patients physically, emotionally and practically throughout treatment.
Factors contributing to an increased risk of developing mesothelioma include:
There are three mesothelioma cell-types:
Pleural mesothelioma may cause these symptoms:
Peritoneal mesothelioma may cause these symptoms:
Pericardial mesothelioma may cause these symptoms:
Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between mesothelioma and other conditions, such as lung cancer. To effectively diagnose mesothelioma, your specialist in The Lung Center may conduct the following diagnostic tests and procedures:
The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the lungs or to other parts of the body is called staging. The stage is determined from the results of physical exams, imaging tests and biopsies.
The Lung Center clinicians tailor treatment strategies to the individual disease of each patient. Two new tests help our clinicians tailor therapy for their patients:
Mesothelioma is an uncommon cancer, rarely seen in most medical centers. Specialists in The Lung Center have more than 20 years of experience in treating mesothelioma and offer the full spectrum of conventional and novel therapies, personalized to each individual patient and cancer, in a caring and compassionate environment. Options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and combined approaches.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital has pioneered and refined the most advanced surgical treatments for mesothelioma, including the introduction of interoperative chemotherapeutic drugs. Today, clinicians from around the world come to Boston to learn from our experts.
The purpose of surgery is to remove all visible disease, with the goal of extending life. Surgical options for mesothelioma include:
Non-Surgical Cancer Treatments
Following surgery, additional treatments (called adjuvant treatment) are offered to enhance control of the disease. The main ones are chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
When you become a patient of The Lung Center you will meet many members of the team who will carefully review your medical history and studies. You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination and receive clinically-proven treatment by a board-certified thoracic surgeon experienced in diagnosing and treating mesothelioma. Our goal is to alleviate or eliminate symptoms so you can confidently resume everyday activities.
To support patients and families through this process, there is a dedicated mesothelioma support team consisting of social work, chaplaincy and patient liaison. These professionals provide counseling and spiritual support as well as practical help navigating care, housing and travel needs.
The Thornton & Naumes House at 48 Francis Street, Boston is located directly across from the main entrance of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. This house is designated for mesothelioma patients and families undergoing treatment at the Thoracic Surgery Division, Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
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