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Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the mesothelial cells. These cells exist in the lining that covers the outer surface of the body's organs.
Mesothelioma occurs most often in the pleura, or the lining of the lungs. However, the cancer can also attack the linings of the heart and abdomen. The main cause is exposure to asbestos.

There is no cure, but palliative therapy may improve a patient's quality of life.

In 2015, the fatlity rate for mesothelioma in the United States (U.S.) was 10.93 per million people. Only 9 percent of those diagnosed with mesothelioma live longer than 5 years.

Fast facts on mesothelioma:

  1. Here are some key points about mesothelioma. More detail is in the main article.
  2. Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that most commonly affects the lungs.
  3. It is most likely to result from exposure to asbestos, which may have been up to 30 years before symptoms appear.
  4. There is no cure, and treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and improving quality of life.

Cancers happen when there is uncontrolled division of mutated cells. Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer, meaning that it progresses and spreads quickly.

There are three types:

  1. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form. It affects the pleura, or the lining around the lungs.
  2. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common form. It attacks the lining of the abdomen, called the peritoneum.
  3. Pericardial mesothelioma is the rarest form. It affects the protective layer of the heart.

Mesothelioma is directly linked to exposure to a combination of six minerals made from long, thin fibers called asbestos.

Asbestos is a group of minerals that occur naturally. They exist as fibers or bundles. These fibers may be found in soil or rocks and exist in many parts of the world naturally. Asbestos is made of silicon, oxygen and some other elements.

Asbestos is used in a range of products, especially building materials, including siding, floor tiles, ceiling materials, and roof shingles. Its presence is also found in friction products, such as brake parts, as well as heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, coatings, and gaskets.

It was often used in the past to insulate products and buildings and make them soundproof or fireproof.

When asbestos products are installed, repaired, or demolished, the fibers can become airborne. They can then be inhaled or swallowed and become permanently lodged in the lungs, for decades in some cases. Other organs can also be affected.

Mesothelioma can develop from these fibers.