Mesothelioma is not always cancerous. In some rare cases, a person can have benign mesothelioma. While the causes of mesothelioma are not yet understood, physicians can treat the disease with surgery and rates of success are high.
Overview of Benign Mesothelioma
Unlike asbestos cancer, such as malignant mesothelioma, the benign type is not cancer and is not caused by asbestos exposure. The malignant form of mesothelioma usually develops 20-50 years after exposure to asbestos, but the benign form can occur at any age.
There are many types of benign mesothelioma, and all of them are rarer than malignant mesothelioma. For example, benign multicystic peritoneal mesothelioma only has 150 cases reported in the medical literature. Well-differentiated papillary mesothelioma has only 60 documented cases. (NIH.gov)
As opposed to malignant mesothelioma that has a high mortality rate, full recovery is possible for most people who have benign mesothelioma. But there have been some occurrences of tumors coming back. Occasionally the relapse is malignant. That is why doctors will continue to monitor benign patients for new tumors. (asbestos.com)
Benign or Malignant?
Tumors develop when once-healthy cells start to divide rapidly and form a lump of cells. Note that benign tumors are not cancer. The term ‘cancer’ only applies if the tumor is malignant.
The major differences between these tumors are that the benign variety does not invade tissues near it. They also do not spread to other areas of the body. That is why benign mesothelioma is less serious than the malignant form. But you still can have discomfort and complications from benign tumors.
Some benign tumors can get large enough to affect organs and tissues surrounding them. For instance, benign pleural fibrous tumors in the lung lining can cause fluid to build up. This can lead to low blood sugar and can possibly cause seizures or even coma.
Generally, benign mesothelioma symptoms resemble the symptoms of malignant mesothelioma. Most people with the benign variety of the lung membranes or pleura have difficulty breathing, a chronic cough and chest pain. People that have malignant mesothelioma have similar symptoms but may also have night sweats, fever, and weight loss.
If a doctor suspects you have any form of mesothelioma, he or she will get your complete medical history and do a physical examination. If there is anything suspected, the doctor will usually recommend a chest X-ray, MRI or CT scan, or more than one. They also may recommend a biopsy. A tissue biopsy is the removal of a small number of tumor cells from the area. A fluid biopsy is the insertion of a needle into the tumor to take out fluid.
Types of Benign Mesothelioma
There are several forms of benign mesothelioma that are differentiated by the characteristics of the cells involved. Unlike malignant mesothelioma, benign tumors are simple to treat and the outlook is good:
- Benign multicystic peritoneal mesothelioma: Occurs in the peritoneal cavity; occurs in young and middle-aged women most often; symptoms include swelling and abdominal pain. (gov)
- Well-differentiated papillary mesothelioma: Usually benign tumors, but there are some cases where malignant cells are mixed with benign cells. Most cases are in the abdominal cavity of women 30 to 40 years old. Can occur in the heart sac or testicular lining. Symptoms include fluid accumulation and pain
- Adenomatoid tumor: This usually affects the tunica vaginalis and the uterus wall.
- Localized fibrous tumor: Affects mesothelial cell surface in the pleura but it also can happen in the pericardium and peritoneum. Approximately 50% of patients do not have symptoms. When they occur, they include pain, breathlessness and cough.
Treatments for Benign Mesothelioma
The only treatment needed in most cases of benign mesothelioma is surgery to take out the tumor. As opposed to malignant mesothelioma, there is no need to do a follow-up treatment because the tumor is not cancer and does not spread to other tissues. In some situations, the patient could need monitoring to ensure the tumors do not recur.
About 75% of people with benign variety have lung tumors, a surgery called a thoracotomy is done. The nature of this procedure depends on the location and size of the tumor. A thoracotomy could involve taking out part of a lung, a lobe, or possibly the entire lung. But removing the entire lung is rare with benign mesothelioma.
Benign mesothelioma is relatively harmless, but you can get complications after surgery. Pleural effusion is the most common side effect; this is fluid buildup in the pleural spaces that puts pressure on the heart and lungs. A patient is often fitted with a chest drain for the first days after the surgery to get rid of the excess fluid.
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