Pericardial mesothelioma is a rare kind of cancer that affects this membrane in the heart. It is most often associated with asbestos exposure, particularly from mines, construction sites, shipbuilding yards, and other occupational locations. Asbestos, a mineral made up of microscopic and needle-like fibers, can be inhaled or ingested. Once the fibers penetrate the body’s soft tissues, they cannot be expelled. Most asbestos fibers lodge themselves in the mesothelium surrounding the lungs, but some find their way to the pericardium.
Some researchers believe that the fibers can travel through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Regardless of how they get there, the fibers do great damage once they have lodged in this soft tissue.
Over a period of decades, asbestos fibers cause cellular changes in the pericardium tissues as well as chronic inflammation of that area of the heart. These changed cells can become cancerous. When they do, they divide and multiply much more quickly than normal cells, spreading throughout the tissue. These cells then thicken into layers that become tumors. The tumors can then lead to fluid buildup between the pericardium layers, which in turn put pressure on the heart.
Asbestos exposure leads to symptoms that are similar to those of other diseases, making diagnosing pericardial mesothelioma difficult. Chest pain, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, low blood pressure and extreme fatigue after minimal activity are some of the most common symptoms. Many times, a diagnosis of pericardial mesothelioma is only made during the screening for or treatment of another health issue. For this reason, anyone with a history of asbestos exposure should make sure to let his or her doctor know so that mesothelioma can be considered as a possible diagnosis.
Other Pericardial Mesothelioma Causes
There are very few other causes of pericardial mesothelioma other than asbestos. Erionite, a fibrous silicate with similar properties to asbestos, is a possible link. An x-ray contrast agent used in the 1930s and 1940s called thorotrast may also be a cause of this cancer. However, these potential causes are considered much less common than exposure to asbestos. Consequently, a person diagnosed with mesothelioma has most likely been exposed to asbestos in the past, usually in an industrial or commercial capacity.