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Small-Cell Mesothelioma

Small-cell mesothelioma is a rare subtype of epithelioid mesothelioma that develops in the lungs, heart, or abdomen lining. It is caused by exposure to asbestos. The most common symptom of this cancer is shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include chest pain and abdominal pain.

This disease may progress slowly over many years but can also progress rapidly. Those who have been diagnosed with small-cell mesothelioma are usually treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Key Facts About Small-Cell Mesothelioma

  • Small-cell mesothelioma was first identified in 1992.
  • It is a rare subtype of epithelioid mesothelioma.
  • So few cases of small-cell mesothelioma have been recorded, and there is very limited research into this cancer.

What Is Small-Cell Mesothelioma?

Small-cell mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the thin layer of tissue that covers the lungs and chest. It is caused by exposure to asbestos.

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that occurs when asbestos fibers are inhaled. It can take many years for symptoms to develop, and they can be nonspecific, meaning that they may be attributed to a number of other conditions before finally being accurately diagnosed.

What Do Small-Cell Mesothelioma Cells Look Like?

The monotonous arrangement of small cells is a characteristic feature of some types of cancer, such as small-cell mesothelioma. These cells contain a single large nucleus and are small, uniform, and round.

This tumor can be diagnosed through physical examination and imaging tests, as well as in the laboratory.

Because they look so similar to small-cell lung cancer, small-cell mesothelioma is often mistaken for small-cell lung cancer.

Small-Cell Mesothelioma vs. Small-Cell Lung Cancer

Small-cell lung cancer cells are more aggressive than other types of lung cancer cells. In some cases, this type of cancer is difficult to treat as it spreads rapidly through the body and can lead to death within months or weeks after diagnosis.

Although small-cell mesothelioma and small-cell lung cancer are similar, how they develop is different. Small-cell lung cancer develops in the cells of the actual lungs, whereas small-cell mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs, called the mesothelium.

Additionally, where streams, ribbons, rosettes, and haematoxyphilic blood vessels are characteristic of small-cell lung cancer, they are absent in small-cell mesothelioma.

What Causes Small-Cell Mesothelioma?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber used in construction and insulation materials. It is now banned in most countries, but it still can be found in older homes and buildings. Asbestos fibers are released into the air when asbestos-containing material breaks down or burns, releasing tiny airborne particles that can cause dangerous health effects.

Asbestos is now known to be dangerous because it can cause serious health problems if inhaled, ingested, or touched. One such health problem that asbestos can cause is small-cell mesothelioma.

Symptoms of Small-Cell Mesothelioma

Small-cell mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the tissue lining the lungs and heart. Symptoms are often mistaken for other diseases and can be difficult to diagnose.

Symptoms of small-cell mesothelioma include:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • coughing up blood
  • coughing or wheezing

Symptoms of mesothelioma can differ for each person, and some symptoms may not appear until later.

Diagnosing Small-Cell Mesothelioma

Small-cell mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as lung cancer because it causes similar symptoms.

Diagnosis can occur through a chest x-ray, biopsy, or CT scan, but these methods are not accurate enough to diagnose small-cell mesothelioma. Therefore, it is often misdiagnosed as other conditions. This can be dangerous as it stops appropriate treatment from commencing promptly.

Biopsies are the only way to diagnose small-cell mesothelioma accurately. However, because small cells often only make up part of the tumor, it can be difficult to get a representative tissue sample when doctors conduct a biopsy.

What are the Treatment Options for Small-Cell Mesothelioma?

There are three standard treatment options for small-cell mesothelioma: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Surgery is the most common treatment for this type of cancer, and it involves removing the tumor and surrounding tissue through an incision in the chest or abdomen.

Chemotherapy involves administering drugs that kill cancer cells, while radiation therapy uses X-rays to destroy tumor cells.

If you’ve been diagnosed with small-cell mesothelioma, speak to your healthcare provider about your treatment options.

What is the Prognosis for Small-Cell Mesothelioma?

Because of its rarity, little is known about the prognosis for small-cell mesothelioma.

One very small study looked at 6 patients with small-cell mesothelioma and found that the mean survival was 8.2 months.

As with all mesothelioma (barring benign cystic mesothelioma), small-cell mesothelioma is a terminal condition. Your individual prognosis will depend on many factors, including age, overall health, and how far the disease has progressed by the time of diagnosis. The healthcare professionals treating you are the best people to speak to regarding your own case.


Read on to learn the answers to frequently asked questions regarding small-cell mesothelioma.

What is the difference between mesothelioma and small-cell lung cancer?

Mesothelioma and small-cell lung cancer are two different types of cancers, but they both develop from the same place – your lungs. Mesothelioma develops from cells in the lining of your lungs and chest cavity. Small-cell lung cancer develops from cells in your bronchial tubes located at the top of your lungs.

What is the life expectancy of someone with small-cell lung cancer?

Due to the limited knowledge of small-cell lung cancer, a firm prognosis cannot be given. However, according to one small-scale study, it is likely to be around 8 months.

What are the 3 types of mesothelioma?

The three main types of mesothelioma cells are epithelial, sarcomatoid, and biphasic. Small-cell mesothelioma is a subtype of epithelioid mesothelioma but may also occur in biphasic tumors. This means that there are multiple types of cells in the tumor.

Next Steps

You should first speak to your doctor if you’ve been diagnosed with small-cell mesothelioma. Your doctor will likely recommend a treatment course focusing on surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Then, you may want to consider joining a support group to speak with people in similar situations. Many people find it reassuring to have a network of people going through the same thing. It may also be beneficial for your loved ones.