Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Monday 1 August, 2016

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On this page: The peritoneum | What is mesothelioma? | What are the different types? | How common is peritoneal mesothelioma? | What are the risk factors? | What are the symptoms?Living with mesothelioma | Asbestos diseases support organisations

This information has been prepared to help you understand more about peritoneal mesothelioma. It includes basic information about this form of mesothelioma and how it is diagnosed and treated. We recommend that you also read Understanding Pleural Mesothelioma. Many of the practical and support issues discussed in this booklet apply to all people affected by mesothelioma.

The peritoneum

Peritoneal refers to the peritoneum. The peritoneum is a thin membrane lining the abdomen that supports the organs and provides a pathway for nerves, blood and lymph vessels. It releases a lubricating fluid to help organs to slide smoothly against each other as the body moves around.

The peritoneum has two layers:

  • Outer layer (visceral) – lines the surface of the organs in the abdomen and pelvis
  • Inner layer (parietal) – lines the walls of the abdomen and pelvis.

The space between these two layers is called the peritoneal cavity or sac. It is made of mesothelial cells and connective tissue.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that starts in the mesothelial cells. These cells line the outer surface of most of the body’s internal organs, forming a membrane called the mesothelium. The mesothelium covering the abdomen and pelvis is called the peritoneum.

What are the different types?

There are two main types of mesothelioma, which are classified according to the area affected:

  • Peritoneal mesothelioma – develops in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum).
  • Pleural mesothelioma – forms in the covering of the lungs (pleura).

Rarely, mesothelioma occurs in the membrane around the heart (pericardium) or the membrane around the testicles (tunica vaginalis).

It is rare for a person to be diagnosed with mesothelioma in more than one place, however it may spread to other parts of the body.

Cell types of mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is also grouped according to how the cells look under a microscope. There are three main types:

  • Epithelioid
    Cells look similar to normal mesothelial cells. This is the most common type, making up about 60% of cases.
  • Sarcomatoid
    Cells have changed and look like cells from fibrous tissue. Accounts for about 15% of cases.
  • Mixed or biphasic
    Includes epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. These make up about 25% of cases.

Mesotheliomas can differ in the way they grow. Some form a mass (tumour), while others grow along the peritoneum, forming a thick covering on the abdomen.

How common is peritoneal mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer, affecting about 700 Australians each year. Fewer than 70 of the people are diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma (less than 10% of cases).

Mesothelioma is more common in older people; about 85% of those diagnosed are aged over 65.

What are the risk factors?

Exposure to asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma. Very rarely patients develop mesothelioma after radiotherapy to the chest.

Asbestos is the name of a group of naturally occurring minerals that are resistant to high temperatures and humidity. It was used in many building products in Australia from the 1940s until 1987. From 31 December 2003 Australia banned asbestos being sold, reused and/or imported into the country.

People who have worked in the construction or transport industries are most likely to have been exposed to asbestos.

It can take many years after being exposed to asbestos for mesothelioma to develop. This is called the latency period or latent interval, and is usually between 20 and 60 years.

What are the symptoms?

The earliest signs of mesothelioma are often vague and similar to other conditions. It is only later, when the cancer moves into the underlying tissues or causes fluid to leak into the cavity in the abdomen, that symptoms appear.

Mesothelioma in the peritoneum may cause:

  • abdominal pain
  • a swollen abdomen
  • poor appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever
  • bowel or urinary problems

Living with mesothelioma

Being diagnosed with mesothelioma can be a shock and upsetting for you, your family and friends. You may have questions about how to look after yourself and the impact the mesothelioma will have on those around you. Some people seek practical and financial support or information about making a claim for compensation.

People who develop mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure may be able to claim compensation. Making a mesothelioma claim is a specialised area. It is important to talk to a lawyer and law firm experienced in this area of work, as they often have a wealth of knowledge about how and where asbestos was used. Speak with an asbestos disease support organisation for more information. 

Cancer Council’s Understanding Pleural Mesothelioma booklet has information on these topics, which is relevant to people with all forms of mesothelioma. Refer to the following sections:

Asbestos diseases support organisations

Bernie Banton Foundation

1800 031 731

South Australia
Asbestos Diseases Society South Australia(ADSSA)
1800 157 540
New South Wales
Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia (ADFA)
1800 006 196

Asbestos Victims Association SA Inc
08 8212 6008
1800 665 395
Northern Territory
Asbestos Disease Support Society
1800 776 412
03 9654 9555
Asbestos Disease Support Society
1800 776 412
Asbestos Council of Victoria-GARDS
03 5127 7744
Asbestosis and Mesothelioma Association of Australia (AMAA)
1800 017 758

Western Australia
Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia Inc (ADSA)
1800 646 690
Asbestos Free Tasmania Foundation

Reviewed: Prof Paul Moroz, Professor of Surgery, University of Western Australia and Director of the Western Australian Peritonectomy Service, Joondalup Health Campus, WA; Carole Arbuckle, 13 11 20 nurse, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Sharyn Fenech, consumer; Dr Vinod Ganju, Head of Translational Research, Monash Cancer Centre, VIC; Vicki Hamilton, CEO, Asbestos Council of Victoria-GARDS, VIC; Dr Tom John, Medical Oncologist, Austin Hospital, VIC; Victoria Keena, Executive Officer, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, NSW; Prof David Morris, University of New South Wales, Department of Surgery, St George Hospital, NSW; Evelyn Ramirez, consumer; Rod Smith, Bernie Banton Foundation; Elaine Spellman, Peritonectomy, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Joondalup Health Campus, WA; Prof Nico van Zandwijk, Director of the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute and Professor of Medicine, University of Sydney, NSW and A/Prof Winston Liauw, Cancer Services Stream Director, South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, NSW. Note to reader Always consult your doctor about matters that affect your

Updated: 01 Aug, 2016