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Written on 23rd September 2016 by Laura Magson

Pericardial mesothelioma is a cancer of the tissue lining the heart, which is known as the pericardium. 

Many of our clients are suffering from mesothelioma, but the more common type of mesothelioma is pleural (the lining of the lung) or peritoneal (the stomach lining).

Mesothelioma affecting the pericardium is very rare, accounting for less than 1% of mesothelioma cases according to research published in the International Journal of Cancer Research and Treatment.

What are the causes of pericardial mesothelioma?

Like pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, the only known cause of pericardial mesothelioma is previous exposure to asbestos.

What are the symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma?

The symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma do vary from person to person. Often, symptoms are similar to pleural mesothelioma and include shortness of breath, persistent coughing and chest pain. Some sufferers go on to experience nausea, weight loss and loss of appetite.

Very sadly, this type of mesothelioma is a terminal malignancy. There are palliative treatments available including chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

How easy is it to diagnose pericardial mesothelioma?

We understand that it can be very difficult to diagnose pericardial mesothelioma. This is because symptoms can mimic those of other illnesses.

I currently act for the family of a lady who died from pericardial mesothelioma. This lady suffered with symptoms of chest pain for a few months, but despite investigation, mesothelioma was not discovered until post mortem. She was thought to be suffering with pericarditis (swelling of the pericardium, the fluid filled sac surrounding the heart). The symptoms of pericarditis can also include sharp chest pain, but pericarditis is not usually a serious condition, often thought to be brought on by an infection.

In my client’s case, the pericarditis was probably brought on by the pericardial mesothelioma.

Doctors may diagnose this form of mesothelioma following various tests including echocardiogram, x-ray, CT scans or MRI. They may also undertake pericardocentesis which is a procedure using a needle to remove fluid from the sac around the heart which tests whether the fluid contains cancerous cells. Alternatively, they may do a pericardioscopy – a procedure where a small incision in the skin over the heart is made in order to insert a tube with a camera on to examine the tissue surrounding the heart. Biopsies can also be taken during this process. We understand that sometime these tests are not definitive.

How does pericardial mesothelioma develop?

This type of mesothelioma comes about due to previous asbestos exposure.

When someone is exposed to asbestos through their work or environment, they can inhale or ingest microscopic asbestos fibres. These fibres can then get stuck in the tissues that line the chest cavity (as well as the lungs, the abdomen or cavity and organs) and the heart. When the asbestos fibres find their way to the pericardium lining the heart, they sometimes lodge in the tissue and stay in the body for some years before pericardial mesothelioma develops.

Like other types of mesothelioma, researchers believe that it can take 15 to 60 years for pericardial mesothelioma to develop.

What should I do if I have been diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma?

If you have been diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma, you may be entitled to benefits.

If you have been exposed to asbestos during your employment, you should be entitled to Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. If you are not sure how you have come into contact with asbestos, you are still eligible to apply for a lump sum from the Department for Work and Pensions. There may be further payments and benefits that you are entitled to. You can contact the DWP for more information.