Mesothelioma Glossary of Terms

If you or a loved one is dealing with mesothelioma, you may have discovered how much jargon medical experts tend to use. It can be confusing to navigate the diagnosis and treatment options without a good explanation of the technical terms. To help make your journey a little easier, we are providing this glossary of common terms related to mesothelioma and its treatment.

Actinolite Asbestos

A subtype of amphibole asbestos. It has a dark color when viewed under a microscope due to the presence of certain minerals within the asbestos. This type is found in products like drywall, insulation, and sealant.

Adjuvant Therapy

An additional cancer treatment that is used after surgery to target any remaining cancer cells and reduce the chances that the cancer will recur. For mesothelioma, common examples of adjuvant therapy include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Patients might also receive neoadjuvant therapy, which is given before surgery.

Amosite Asbestos

A subtype of amphibole asbestos. This is the second most commonly used type of asbestos after chrysotile and is found in a variety of building materials in the United States. Examples include ceiling tiles, electrical insulation, and fireproof products. It is considered one of the most hazardous types of asbestos.

Amphibole Asbestos

A type of asbestos made up of straight fibers with sharp ends. There are five types of amphibole asbestos: actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, and tremolite.

Anthophyllite Asbestos

A subtype of amphibole asbestos. It is brown or yellow when viewed under a microscope and is found in certain building materials such as cement, insulation, and rubber.

Asbestos

A type of mineral made up of very thin, microscopic fibers. Multiple types of asbestos exist with slightly different properties. When asbestos is inhaled or swallowed, it can cause several different diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Although the use of asbestos is now heavily regulated in the United States, it is not completely banned, and asbestos imports continue to occur.

Asbestos Abatement

The process of identifying and removing asbestos from a structure as safely as possible. This generally involves sealing off the affected area of the building, then following stringent procedures to contain the asbestos as it is removed. Asbestos abatement may be performed during maintenance on parts of the building that contain asbestos or when a concern arises that asbestos fibers are at risk of becoming airborne in the building. Additionally, buildings that contain asbestos and are scheduled for demolition generally must have asbestos abatement performed first to avoid aerosolizing the asbestos into the surrounding air during the demolition process.

Asbestosis

A noncancerous disease that results from inhaling asbestos fibers. Prolonged exposure leads to significant scarring of the lung tissue. This causes symptoms like chest pain and difficulty breathing. Asbestosis indicates that patients have had significant asbestos exposure, which raises the risk that they will develop mesothelioma or lung cancer.

Ascites

A buildup of fluid inside of the abdomen. This can lead to uncomfortable abdominal swelling, along with symptoms such as digestive problems or swelling in the legs. Doctors can treat ascites using a procedure called paracentesis, in which the fluid is drained. Asbestos exposure is the most recognized risk factor for developing this disease.

Biphasic

One of the three main cell types of mesothelioma. This cell type contains a mixture of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. In terms of the prognosis and the treatment options, biphasic mesothelioma is intermediate between these other two cell types.

Chemotherapy

A common treatment option for mesothelioma and other cancers, which uses medications to attack cancer cells. These medications are typically given through an IV. In general, chemotherapy medications target cells that are growing quickly, including cancer cells. However, healthy cells in your body that grow quickly can also be affected by chemotherapy, leading to the side effects that this treatment can produce.

Chrysotile Asbestos

The only known subtype of serpentine asbestos. Because it is both highly heat resistant and flexible, this type of asbestos was very widely used in a variety of products to provide insulation and fireproofing. Chrysotile accounts for approximately 95% of asbestos used in the United States.

Crocidolite Asbestos

A subtype of amphibole asbestos. It is blue when viewed under a microscope. It was used most often in insulation, acid storage battery casings, and ceiling tiles. This is considered the most dangerous type of asbestos in the amphibole family because its fibers are extremely fine and sharp and easy to inhale.

CRS

An acronym that stands for cytoreductive surgery. This is a type of procedure commonly used for peritoneal mesothelioma. The surgeon removes as much visible cancer tissue as possible from within the abdomen; this can involve removing certain organs or parts of organs (such as the spleen, gallbladder, appendix, bladder, and intestines). The specifics of tissue removal are different from patient to patient, depending on where cancer tissue is found. CRS is typically combined with HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy).

Epithelioid

One of the three main cell types of mesothelioma. It is also known as epithelial. In general, epithelioid mesothelioma has the best prognosis and is the easiest to treat of the three cell types. Multiple subtypes of epithelioid mesothelioma exist.

EPP

An acronym that stands for extrapleural pneumonectomy. This surgical procedure is used for pleural mesothelioma. The surgeon removes the entire lung along with other tissues on the affected side.

External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT)

The most common type of radiation therapy used for mesothelioma. Multiple beams of radiation are aimed at the tumor from different directions. These cross at the site of the tumor, allowing the treatment to deliver a high dose of radiation to the cancer cells while causing less damage to surrounding healthy tissues.

HIPEC

An acronym that stands for hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, a common procedure used for peritoneal mesothelioma, in which a heated solution of chemotherapy drugs is infused into the abdomen during a surgical procedure. It is typically combined with CRS (cytoreductive surgery).

Immunotherapy

A newer treatment option for mesothelioma, which stimulates the body’s immune system to attack and destroy the cancer cells. Immunotherapy agents help your immune system cells to target the mesothelioma cells. This is different from chemotherapy, which attacks cancer cells directly.

Laparoscopy

A type of surgery that inserts a laparoscope through a small incision in the abdominal wall. A small video camera and light are attached on the end. In peritoneal mesothelioma patients, it may be used as part of the diagnostic process to get a biopsy and evaluate the presence of tumor tissue throughout the abdomen.

Latency Period

The time between exposure to asbestos and the development of disease. In the case of mesothelioma, the latency period can be decades. It is rare to have a latency period of less than 15 years.

Mesothelioma

A malignant cancer that affects the cells that make up the mesothelium, which is a type of membrane that surrounds certain organs.

Mesothelioma Cell Types

The group that mesothelioma cells fall into based on certain characteristics of the cells. The cell type is determined by a pathologist who examines the cells under a microscope. This is different from the location of the cancer (pleural, peritoneal, pericardial, or testicular). There are three primary mesothelioma cell types: epithelioid, sarcomatoid, and biphasic. The cell type of a patient’s cancer has a significant impact on their prognosis and treatment options.

Mesothelium

A type of connective tissue that surrounds certain organs of the body, including the abdomen, heart, lungs, and testes. The pleura, peritoneum, pericardium, and tunica vaginalis are types of mesothelium. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium.

Neoadjuvant Therapy

An additional cancer treatment that is used before surgery to help make the surgery less invasive and more effective. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can both be used as neoadjuvant therapies. Patients might also receive adjuvant therapy, which is given after surgery.

Occupational Exposure

When a person is exposed to asbestos while working. Certain jobs are at a higher risk for asbestos exposure, such as construction workers, firefighters, and industrial and power plant employees. Employers should provide proper protective gear to their employees who may be exposed to asbestos, but unfortunately, they don’t always do so. Employers may be required to provide compensation to employees who experience health problems due to asbestos exposure at work.

Palliative Care

Treatments that are focused on improving the quality of life rather than extending life. In patients receiving palliative care, symptom control is the main focus of treatment.

Paracentesis

A procedure that can be used to relieve ascites, or the buildup of fluid within the abdomen. The fluid is drained using a slender needle or catheter inserted through the abdominal wall.

P/D

An acronym that stands for pleurectomy/decortication. This is a lung-sparing surgical procedure that can be used for pleural mesothelioma. Pleurectomy removes the affected pleura lining around the lung, along with any visible cancerous tissue. Decortication removes visible tumor masses from the lung surface and the rest of the chest area. This is a less invasive procedure than EPP but is still a major surgery.

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Cancer that affects the mesothelium, or membrane, that surrounds the heart. Pericardial mesothelioma is very rare.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Cancer that affects the mesothelium, or membrane, that surrounds the abdomen. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common type of mesothelioma.

Pleural Effusion

A buildup of fluid around the lungs between the two layers of the pleura (the mesothelial membrane that surrounds the lungs). This can cause symptoms like difficulty breathing and sharp chest pain. Doctors can treat pleural effusions using a procedure called thoracentesis, in which the fluid is drained. However, fluid can build up again. A procedure called pleurodesis may be used to help prevent future pleural effusions.

Pleural Mesothelioma

Cancer that affects the mesothelium, or membrane, that surrounds the lungs. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma.

Pleurodesis

A procedure that can be used in patients who experience repeated pleural effusions. Through a small incision in the chest wall, the doctor inserts a medication between the two layers of the pleura. This causes the layers to adhere to each other so fluid can’t build up between them.

Prognosis

The expected outcome for a patient given their diagnosis and personal factors (such as age). There are different ways to discuss a patient’s mesothelioma prognosis, which includes life expectancy and survival rates. It is always important to keep in mind that the prognosis is only a prediction, and some patients live significantly longer or shorter than their prognosis indicated.

Radiation Therapy

A common treatment option for mesothelioma and other cancers, which uses high-energy waves to destroy cancer cells. For mesothelioma, the most common form is external beam radiation therapy (EBRT).

Sarcomatoid

One of the three main cell types of mesothelioma. In general, sarcomatoid mesothelioma has the worst prognosis and is the most difficult to treat of the three cell types. Sarcomatoid mesothelioma has multiple subtypes.

Serpentine Asbestos

A type of asbestos that has curly fibers made up of sheets of crystals. It is the only known asbestos from the chrysotile family, which is the most common type of asbestos used in the United States.

Testicular Mesothelioma

Cancer that arises in the tunica vaginalis. This is the mesothelium, or membrane, found around the testes. Testicular mesothelioma is very rare.

Thoracentesis

A procedure that can be used to relieve the symptoms caused by pleural effusion, or the buildup of fluid around the lungs. The fluid is drained using a needle or catheter inserted through the chest wall.

Thoracoscopy

A minimally invasive procedure that inserts a flexible tube through a small incision to examine the lungs. A small fiber optic camera, or an endoscope, and light are attached on the end. In pleural mesothelioma patients, it may be used as part of the diagnostic process to get a biopsy and evaluate the presence of tumor tissue throughout the pleural cavity.

Tremolite Asbestos

A subtype of amphibole asbestos. Its color ranges from white to green. In addition to its use in paint, plumbing materials, and fabrics, tremolite asbestos can be found in minerals such as talc and vermiculite.

Tumor-Treating Fields (TTF)

A new treatment option that is FDA-approved for pleural mesothelioma patients who are not eligible for surgery. Its use in other mesothelioma patients is still considered experimental. Alternating electrical currents are passed through the skin to help prevent the cancer cells from dividing and growing.

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