Pericardial Mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma affects the area around the heart and is one of the rarest types of the cancer, accounting for approximately 5 to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases.

What is Pericardial Mesothelioma?

The pericardium is a fluid-filled sac that surrounds the heart and the ends of the aorta, vena cava and pulmonary artery. It exists to keep the heart contained within the chest cavity and prevent the heart from over-expanding when blood volume increases. The pericardial cavity lies within the pericardium. It is filled with fluid, which reduces friction between the pericardial membranes. Pericardial mesothelioma develops when tumors form in this membranous area.

How Does the Disease Develop?

Pericardial mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by exposure to the toxic mineral asbestos. No one knows for sure, however, how tiny asbestos fibers make their way into the pericardial region. One theory is that the fibers first make their way into the lungs and then break up into smaller pieces and enter the blood stream. The fibers are then pumped through the heart and may become lodged in the pericardium. At that point, inflammation occurs and tumors can develop.

Pericardial mesothelioma typically develops in those who were exposed to asbestos in an occupational setting or during military services. If you were exposed to asbestos, you may wish to alert your doctor of your past history should any symptoms of mesothelioma surface.

Symptoms of Pericardial Mesothelioma

Similar to pleural mesothelioma, the symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma can often be mistaken for another condition. For example, many people who experience chest pain that can be associated with this type of mesothelioma may think they are experiencing a heart attack or doctors will suspect some other kind of heart disease.

For the most part, the fluid that gathers around the heart causes most of the symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma. Symptoms also vary according to the size and location of the tumor and the overall health of the patient. Symptoms of the disease may also include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • A persistent cough
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fatigue, even after minimal exertion
  • Weight loss

Pericardial Mesothelioma Diagnosis

As with all types of mesothelioma, the diagnostic process typically begins with an examination of the patient’s medical and occupational history, highlighting any opportunities for asbestos exposure. Once the doctor has established a connection with asbestos, it is easier to proceed with the appropriate testing.

An x-ray of the chest area will usually be the first test performed, generally followed by more sophisticated imaging tests such as MRIs or CT scans. A more precise PET scan may also be used. A tissue biopsy is often included as well and can be definitive in confirming a diagnosis of pericardial mesothelioma.

Treatment of Pericardial Mesothelioma

Patients diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma may elect to undergo several different treatment options. The patient’s oncologist may suggest a surgical procedure to remove fluid from around the heart in order to reduce chest pain and lessen breathing difficulties, making the patient more comfortable.

Chemotherapy may be recommended as well to kill living cancerous cells. Radiation may also be used to reduce fluid build-up. Some clinical trials may also address this form of mesothelioma and many patients may wish to enroll to test up-and-coming medications and treatments. Alternative treatments may also be considered, including massage, meditation, or acupuncture.


Through the prognosis for patients with pericardial mesothelioma is typically poor, those diagnosed may wish to undergo treatment to combat the cancer and prolong life expectancy. If you wish to receive additional information about mesothelioma life expectancy, please fill out the complimentary packet request form on this page.