Mesothelioma is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of those knowledgeable about this deadly form of cancer. Malignant mesothelioma, generally caused by exposure to asbestos, is incurable and the prognosis for anyone diagnosed with the disease is generally death, within six to twelve months. However, there is one unusual exception to this grim picture, and that exception is the form known as benign mesothelioma. About ten percent of cases of mesothelioma prove to be benign.
A benign mesothelioma is a fibrous tumor that forms on the mesothelium, the layer of epithelial cells which surrounds the lungs, the heart, and the stomach and intestines. Benign mesothelioma tumors form only in the pleural mesothelium, the tissues surrounding the lung. Unlike all other forms of mesothelioma, benign mesothelioma is not associated with asbestos exposure. The cause of benign mesothelioma is not well-understood, but it is probably associated with carcinogenic exposure, as are most other cancers.
Benign mesothelioma is generally diagnosed after a patient presents with shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, or clubbed fingers. Patients generally do not experience any symptoms until the tumor grows to a large enough size to begin pressing against the lung, leading to shortness of breath. A chest X-ray, CT scan, and/or open lung biopsy confirm the diagnosis; the treatment for benign mesothelioma is surgical removal of the tumor. Fortunately, the outcomes of this surgery are generally positive. 9 out of 10 patients have no reoccurrence of the mesothelioma. There is occasionally a complication associated with benign mesothelioma, pleural effusion, in which liquid escapes into the tissue surrounding the lungs. This complication is also relatively manageable and is rarely a major problem.
Benign mesothelioma can also occur in the epithelial tissues surrounding the reproductive tissues. This form of the disease is exceptionally rare, and is similarly treated with surgery to remove the tumor from the body.