Pericardial mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that develops in the pericardium, or the protective sac or membrane that surrounds the heart. It is a subtype of an already rare form of cancer, mesothelioma. According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1999 to 2018, it made up 0.2 percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses.
Pericardial mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Sadly, it is a terminal illness with no known cure. If you have been diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma, learn more about your diagnosis, prognosis and available financial compensation with assistance from Bailey & Glasser, LLP.
What Is Pericardial Mesothelioma?
Pericardial means a disease or medical condition that involves the pericardium. This is the dual-layered, fluid-filled membrane that surrounds the heart, holding it in place and helping it function correctly. Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelial tissues, which refers to the layer of tissues surrounding, cushioning and protecting all organs.
There are four types of mesothelioma: pleural (affects the lining of the lungs), pericardial, peritoneal (affects the lining of the abdominal cavity) and testicular (affects the lining of the testes). Pericardial is one of the least common types. It is a form of cancer that develops in or affects the sac-like membrane around the heart.
Due to the limited number of cases documented in medical literature (less than 200, according to the National Library of Medicine), minimal information about this disease, difficulty detecting and diagnosing it, and its proximity to the heart, pericardial mesothelioma has the lowest life expectancy out of all forms of mesothelioma. However, treatment can help extend a patient’s life.
What Causes Pericardial Mesothelioma?
The only known cause of pericardial mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a group of minerals that naturally form deposits around the world. It is a recognized carcinogen that became regulated for safety reasons in the United States in the late 1970s. Unfortunately, prior to this, it was a popular manufacturing material.
Due to its fire-resistant properties and durability, asbestos was used often in products, consumer goods and building materials that are still around today. Asbestos may be found in older buildings, drywall, insulation, cement, roofing tiles and shingles, ceramics, adhesives, paints, automotive parts, appliances, and talcum powder products.
Research shows that no amount of asbestos exposure is safe for humans, and mesothelioma is diagnosed most often in people who are regularly or consistently exposed to this carcinogen. This includes workers in high-risk occupations, such as construction or manufacturing – and their loved ones due to secondhand exposure.
Can Pleural Mesothelioma Spread to the Heart?
Further research needs to be done to confirm how pericardial mesothelioma happens. While evidence shows it is caused by asbestos, researchers are not sure how it develops. Cardiac tumors are rare and typically the result of cancer spreading (metastasizing) from elsewhere in the body. This could be the case for pericardial mesothelioma, which may spread from mesothelioma in other parts of the body. However, this disease may also be caused directly by asbestos fibers becoming lodged in the protective sac around the heart. The mechanics of this disease are still being studied.
What Are the Signs of Pericardial Mesothelioma?
Asbestos-related diseases are difficult to diagnose for a few reasons. One is the long latency period. It can take several decades – anywhere from 20-60+ years – from the date that an individual was exposed to asbestos for this mineral to cause enough irritation and cellular damage to result in cancerous tumors. This often makes it difficult for doctors to connect symptoms with asbestos exposure. Pericardial mesothelioma is rare and is more difficult to diagnose than other types of mesothelioma.
A patient with pericardial mesothelioma may visit a doctor with complaints of the following signs and symptoms:
- Dry, persistent cough
- Chest pain or tightness
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or palpitations
- Heart murmur
- Pain in the right shoulder
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pericardial effusion, or a buildup of excess fluid around the heart
- Thickening of the pericardial membrane
- Pressure on the heart from fluid or blood (cardiac tamponade)
- Cardiomyopathy, or trouble pumping blood through the heart
- Swelling of the legs or lower body
- Chronic or excessive fatigue
- Unexplained fever or excessive sweating
These symptoms may worsen over time. After listening to the symptoms and conducting a physical examination, a doctor may use blood tests to rule out other types of cardiac cancers. A tissue biopsy is the only definitive way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. If you are experiencing symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma, talk to your doctor. You may need to visit a specialist or mesothelioma expert for a diagnosis.
What Is the Prognosis and Life Expectancy of a Person With Pericardial Mesothelioma?
Unfortunately, the prognosis for someone who is diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma is not positive. This is a terminal type of cancer with no known cure. It is especially difficult to detect and treat because it affects the pericardium. The average survival rate for someone diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma is about two to six months, according to the National Library of Medicine. Some patients, however, have improved their life expectancies and survival rates with multimodal therapies and treatments.
Treatments for Pericardial Mesothelioma
The available treatments for pericardial mesothelioma depend on the stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis, as well as other factors. Early-stage diagnoses are rare with this disease. This can limit a patient’s treatment options. If multiple options are available, this can increase a patient’s life expectancy.
Current treatments for pericardial mesothelioma include:
- Surgical removal of cardiac tumors
- Pericardiectomy (removal of the lining around the heart)
- Pericardiocentesis (draining excess fluid from the heart sac with a needle)
- Pericardial window (draining fluid by cutting a hole in the pericardium)
- Radiation therapy
- Palliative treatment options and end-of-life care
Every patient is unique. Discuss your treatment options with your oncologist or mesothelioma specialist for more information. While the rarity of pericardial mesothelioma makes it difficult to treat, new therapies and clinical trials are constantly being made available in the search for better, more effective treatments – and, ideally, a cure.
Getting Compensation for Pericardial Mesothelioma
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma, you may be entitled to financial compensation. At Bailey & Glasser, LLP, we know how physically, emotionally and financially devastating this rare cancer diagnosis is for patients and their families. Our asbestos attorneys help connect patients to vital resources and secure the financial compensation they need to move forward. Learn more about your diagnosis and legal options by consulting with one of our lawyers.