- Peritoneal mesothelioma
Peritoneal mesothelioma is a type of cancer found in the peritoneum, a thin membrane surrounding the abdomen. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that starts from mesothelial cells. These cells line the outer surface of most of the body’s internal organs, creating a protective membrane called the mesothelium.
Some mesotheliomas form a mass (tumour), while others grow along the mesothelium and form a thick covering. In later stages, mesothelioma may spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body.
Learn more about:
- What is peritoneal mesothelioma?
- How mesothelioma affects the abdomen and pelvis
- What causes mesothelioma?
- How common is mesothelioma?
- Can I seek compensation?
- What can I expect after diagnosis?
The mesothelium that lines the walls and organs of the abdomen and pelvis is called the peritoneum. Mesothelioma that develops in the peritoneum is known as malignant peritoneal mesothelioma or, simply, peritoneal mesothelioma. Less than 10% of all mesotheliomas are in the abdomen.
There are two layers of thin tissue in the peritoneum. The inner layer (the visceral peritoneum) lines the surface of organs such as the bowel, liver and ovaries. The outer layer (the parietal peritoneum) lines the walls of the abdomen and pelvis.
Between the two layers is the peritoneal cavity, which normally contains a thin film of fluid. This fluid allows the two layers to slide over each other as you move around. In people with peritoneal mesothelioma, excess fluid often collects between the two layers – this is known as ascites or peritoneal effusion.
Other types of mesothelioma
- Pleural mesothelioma – The mesothelium that covers each lung is called the pleura. Mesothelioma that develops in the pleura is known as malignant pleural mesothelioma or, simply, pleural mesothelioma. About 90% of all mesotheliomas are in the chest.
- Pericardial mesothelioma – Rarely, mesothelioma occurs in the pericardium, the mesothelium covering the heart. This is called pericardial mesothelioma.
- Testicular mesothelioma – Even more rarely, mesothelioma can occur in the membrane around the testicles, the tunica vaginalis. This is called testicular mesothelioma.
Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the peritoneum, the membrane that lines the walls and covers the organs of the abdomen and pelvis. These organs include the stomach, bowel, liver, kidneys and, in women, the uterus and ovaries.
The abdomen and pelvis
What causes mesothelioma?
Exposure to asbestos fibres or asbestos dust is the main cause of mesothelioma, but in some cases there is no clear link to asbestos.
What is asbestos? – Asbestos is the name of a group of naturally occurring minerals that are resistant to high temperatures and humidity. It was used in many building products in Australia from the 1940s until 1987. Since 2004, Australia has banned asbestos being sold, reused and/or imported. Despite the ban, asbestos has been found in some products recently imported from overseas. It is still found in many older buildings, so special care needs to be taken when renovating.
Highest risk groups – People who may have been exposed to asbestos at work include: builders, plumbers and electricians; boilermakers and welders; asbestos miners; asbestos cement manufacturing workers; insulators; automotive industry workers; mechanics; transport workers (especially waterside workers); and textile workers.
People who haven’t worked directly with asbestos but have been exposed to it can also develop mesothelioma. These can include people cleaning work clothes with asbestos fibres on them, or people disturbing asbestos during home renovations or maintenance.
It can take many years for mesothelioma to develop after a person is exposed to asbestos. This is called the latency period or interval – it is usually between 20 and 60 years (most commonly around 40 years) after exposure.
How common is mesothelioma?
Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world, with 757 Australians diagnosed in 2016. Men are four times more likely than women to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, probably because many cases have been caused by exposure to asbestos at work.
Peritoneal mesothelioma makes up nearly 7% of cases. Pleural mesothelioma is more common and makes up about 93% of all mesothelioma cases. Mesothelioma is more common in people over the age of 65, but can occur in younger people.
|The Australian Mesothelioma Registry collects information about new cases of mesothelioma to help reduce cases in the future. Health professionals may tell the registry about new cases, or you can record your diagnosis by calling 1800 378 861 or visiting their website.|
Can I seek compensation?
People who develop mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure may be able to claim compensation. Start making notes and talking to family and friends about when you may have been exposed to asbestos. It is important to get advice from an experienced lawyer as soon as possible after diagnosis because a case for compensation must be started within your lifetime. Mesothelioma or asbestos support groups may be able to help you.
See Making a Claim to learn more about seeking compensation.
What can I expect after diagnosis?
You are likely to feel shocked and upset when told you may have mesothelioma. It’s common to have many questions and concerns about what the diagnosis will mean for you.
- Diagnosis – You will have various tests to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma and work out how far it has progressed. The results will help you and your health professionals make decisions about treatment.
- Treatment – Depending on how advanced the mesothelioma is and other factors, treatment may achieve a longer period of disease control and improve quality of life.
- Managing symptoms – For many people, the main goal of treatment will be to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Depending on how mesothelioma affects your health, you may have periods of relatively good health when symptoms are under control or less active. You may also periods when symptoms need to be relieved with more intensive treatment.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Brian McCaughan, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Theodora Ahilas, Principal Lawyer, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, NSW; Prof David Ball, Director, Lung Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Shirley Bare, Consumer; Cassandra Dickens, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Care Coordinator – Thoracic Malignancies, Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Penny Jacomos, Social Worker, Asbestos Diseases Society of South Australia, SA; A/Prof Thomas John, Medical Oncologist, Senior Clinical Research Fellow, Austin Health, and Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, VIC; Victoria Keena, Executive Officer, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, NSW; Penny Lefeuvre, Consumer; Jocelyn McLean, Mesothelioma Support Coordinator, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, NSW; Prof David Morris, Peritonectomy Surgeon, St George Hospital and University of New South Wales, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Western Australia; Prof Anna Nowak, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine and Pharmacology, The University of Western Australia, WA; Prof Jennifer Philip, Palliative Care Specialist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC; Nicole Taylor, Acting Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma Cancer Specialist Nurse, The Canberra Hospital, ACT. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title. Previous editions of this title and related resources were funded in part by the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities and a donation from Lyall Watts.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a qualified health professional someone who has been there, support groups & forum
Need legal and financial assistance?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment