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Pericardial Mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma is an extremely rare form of asbestos cancer that develops in the pericardiaum, a thin membrane around the heart. It is one of the rarest forms of mesothelioma, accounting for 1 – 2% of all diagnoses. Prognosis is extremely poor, with most cases being diagnosed only after an autopsy.

Pericardial mesothelioma is extremely rare, with fewer than 50 people diagnosed each year. While all forms of mesothelioma can be caused by asbestos exposure, research shows pericardial mesothelioma often forms as secondary tumors of other types of cancer, including pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. On average, patients survive about six months after diagnosis. With so few cases, research is limited and conventional treatments, like surgery and chemotherapy, are often the standard course of treatment.

Parts of the Heart Affected by Pericardial Mesothelioma

What is the Prognosis for Pericardial Mesothelioma?

Though all mesothelioma patients face a poor prognosis, pericardial mesothelioma has the worst life expectancy. The median survival period for peritoneal mesothelioma is six months, and there are only a few case reports of patients who survived one year or longer.

The biggest factors affecting the prognosis of pericardial mesothelioma patients are:

  • Stage of disease
  • Cell type
  • Patient characteristics, like age and gender

Researchers have also found that primary pericardial mesothelioma tumors are rare. Studies indicate that many patients diagnosed with the disease are experiencing metastasis or spreading from another form of mesothelioma or other type of cancer, like adenocarcinoma. Patients with secondary pericardial mesothelioma may be even more limited in treatment options, and will likely face a shorter life expectancy, with some studies reporting a prognosis of six weeks.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Survival Rates Pleural Mesothelioma Survival Rates
1 year after diagnosis 51%
3 years after diagnosis 26%
5 years after diagnosis 23%

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

As with all forms of malignant mesothelioma, it may take years for pericardial mesothelioma symptoms to present. Due to its rarity, researchers are unsure of how asbestos fibers reach the pericardium in cases of primary pericardial mesothelioma. The symptoms patients experience may be more varied for instances of secondary pericardial tumors.

Pericardial mesothelioma develops in between two layers of delicate membrane around the heart. Studies have found the tumors initially thicken the membrane, which may limit heart function and lead to more severe symptoms, like cardiac failure. Because the disease develops in the heart lining, patients may experience severe symptoms even at earlier stages.

Common Symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • Chest pain
  • Night sweats
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Pericardial effusion
  • Cardiac tamponade (compression of the heart)
  • Constrictive pericarditis (inflammation of the pericardium)

Less Common Symptoms

  • Heart murmurs
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Visible jugular venous pulse
  • Shock

How is Pericardial Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

Due to its rarity, all forms of mesothelioma cancer are difficult to diagnose, though malignant pericardial mesothelioma presents more challenges. Because the cancer impacts the heart, worsening symptoms can have a severe impact on the body quickly as the disease progresses. Unfortunately, many pericardial mesothelioma patients aren’t diagnosed until an autopsy is performed, with one report estimating about 10 – 20% of cases are properly diagnosed before a patient’s death.

Resources for Pleural Mesothelioma Patients

Similarly to peritoneal and pleural mesothelioma, diagnosis typically begins with imaging tests, like x-rays and CT scans. These scans may help identify pericardial effusion, or excess fluid around the heart, or any visible tumors. Blood tests may also be performed to help differentiate mesothelioma from other conditions.

A biopsy is the most important step for an accurate mesothelioma diagnosis. A doctor takes a tissue or fluid sample for analysis under a microscope. As part of the process, a pathologist will determine cell type and how the disease can be expected to advance.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Stages

Determining the stage of pericardial mesothelioma is an important aspect of the diagnostic process, as it helps establish prognosis and treatment options. Since there have been so few reported cases, pericardial mesothelioma does not have a formal staging system, but doctors may use more general cancer and mesothelioma characteristics to determine how advanced the cancer is.

Stage 1 or stage 2 pericardial mesothelioma will indicate more localized disease. With limited metastasis, if any, patients will have more treatment options, like surgical resection. Because the disease is difficult to diagnose, many documented cases of pericardial mesothelioma indicate a late stage diagnosis, where the cancer has spread to nearby organs and the lymph nodes. As the disease becomes more advanced, patients may only have palliative treatment options available.

What Treatments are Available for Pericardial Mesothelioma?

Like the more common forms of the cancer, pericardial mesothelioma is often treated with standard treatments like surgery and chemotherapy. Since research around pericardial mesothelioma is limited, doctors are still unsure of the most effective treatment to extend life expectancy. Because most patients are diagnosed at a more advanced stage, these treatments are often applied palliatively to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

For pericardial mesothelioma patients diagnosed at an earlier stage, surgeries like a pericardiectomy may be viable. During a pericardiectomy, a mesothelioma specialist will remove all or part of the lining of the heart. Ideally, the process would remove all visible tumors.

Pericardiectomy is commonly followed by combination chemotherapy to kill remaining cancer cells. A 2017 review of 103 pericardial mesothelioma cases found that 46% of patients underwent surgery, and 37% were treated with chemotherapy. Both treatments showed improved survival from the average six months, with one case report noting a patient who survived at least 1.5 years and another recent report discussing a patient who has survived four years so far after surgical resection.

Palliative surgeries, such as a pericardiocentesis, may also be an option for some patients. Pericardial effusion, fluid buildup around the heart, is a common symptom of the disease, which can put pressure on the heart and negatively impact heart function. A pericardiocentesis can relieve pressure on the heart by draining the excess fluid. The procedure is minimally invasive, as a needle is inserted into the pericardium and the fluid is then drained through a catheter.

Radiation therapy is also occasionally applied, but has not shown success in extending life expectancy. For some patients, it may be a viable option as palliative care to reduce symptoms.

Clinical trials for pericardial mesothelioma are limited since there are so few cases diagnosed each year. However, researchers have been exploring immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy as potential pericardial mesothelioma treatments.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari
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Sources

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