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Most cases of mesothelioma start in the pleura. This type of mesothelioma also is called malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM).
Mesothelioma almost always is caused by past exposure to fibers of asbestos. Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that in the past was used in the construction, automotive, military, marine and manufacturing industries.
When tiny particles of asbestos are made or disturbed, they can float in the air. People can breathe in the asbestos or swallow it. This may lead to serious health conditions such as cancers of the lung, larynx and kidney. It also can cause asbestosis, a non-cancerous, chronic lung disease.
In some people, asbestos fibers cause genetic changes in the pleura, the thin layer of tissue that lines the lungs. These changes may lead to mesothelioma. It can occur 20 to 50 years after a person has come in contact with asbestos.
Types of Mesothelioma
There are three types of mesothelioma:
- Epithelioid: 60% to 70% of cases, usually has the best outcome
- Sarcomatoid: 10% to 15% of cases, more aggressive
- Biphasic or mixed: 10% to 15% of cases, extremely aggressive
In rare cases, mesothelioma can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Visit our genetic testing page to learn more.
Mesothelioma Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting mesothelioma is a risk factor. The only known risk factor for mesothelioma is contact with asbestos. It is more common in men, mainly those between 45 and 85 years old.
Not everyone with risk factors gets mesothelioma. However, if you have been exposed to asbestos, it’s a good idea to tell your doctor.
Learn more about mesothelioma:
Why choose MD Anderson for mesothelioma treatment?
A team of more than 30 medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, pulmonologists and pathologists – all experts in their fields and mesothelioma – work together closely to customize the best treatment for you. A specially trained support team is part of each group.
MD Anderson's researchers are pioneering remarkable advances to give you the best chance for fighting mesothelioma. Areas of study include:
- More-precise ways to diagnose mesothelioma
- Targeted radiation therapy that focuses on cancer cells, while causing the least damage to healthy cells
- Novel targeted agents that help your body fight the disease
We constantly test new boundaries with research. Because of this, we can offer many clinical trials (research studies) of new treatments that are not available at other centers. In fact, the dedicated mesothelioma research program at MD Anderson is one of the few in the world.
And, at MD Anderson you're surrounded by the strength of one of the nation's foremost comprehensive cancer centers. We have all the support and wellness services needed to treat the whole person – not just the disease.
We're here to meet our patients where they are and journey with them.