Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the mesothelium. When mesothelioma occurs in the body, tumors develop on the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a protective, cement like layer of cells and sac that surrounds most major organs in the body. The function of the mesothelium is to create a slippery, protective surface enabling organs to move against one another easily. An example of this is when the heart beats, or when the lungs expand and contract.
The mesothelium is comprised of four different parts, depending on the location in the body. The mesothelium of the lungs and chest is called the pleura; the mesothelium around the heart is called the pericardium; in the abdominal region, the peritoneum; and around the reproductive organs, the tunica vaginalis testis (male) or the tunica serosa uteri (female).
Testicular mesothelioma, or mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis, is an extremely rare (occurring in less than 5% of all mesothelioma cases) and aggressive form of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis occurs in the mesothelium of the testicular region, which is formed by an out pouching of the abdominal peritoneum. It can occur in males in a broad age range; however, the highest rate of incidence occurs in males between the ages of 55 and 75.
Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure
The development of testicular mesothelioma is usually attributed to past long-term or heavy exposure to asbestos. In addition, some rare cases have linked to chromosomal abnormalities or to prior testicular trauma or repair to a hernia, as well as long-term hydrocele (a fluid-filled sack along the spermatic cord in the scrotum). Mesothelioma has a high latency period, meaning that it can remain dormant in an individual’s body for many years before signs and symptoms begin to surface.
Often, mesothelioma cases may initially go undiagnosed when symptoms arise. This is attributed to the fact that often the first symptoms of the cancer are very similar or the same as symptoms of other common ailments. Thus, people may not go to the doctor until their symptoms have progressed, which often means that their cancer has also progressed into more advanced stages.
Testicular Mesothelioma Symptoms
Symptoms that patients with mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis may present with include acute pain in the right or left testicle and swelling in that region. During a routine examination of the scrotum and tissue, testicular mesothelioma may appear to be metastatic carcinoma. Immunohistochemistry (the use of chemicals to study tissue and cells), ultrasounds, and fine needle aspiration (withdrawal of fluid) may be useful to doctors when diagnosing this cancer.
Treatments for Testicular Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma has a tendency to spread along the mesothelium and nerves, blood vessels, and other surfaces. Typically multiple forms of treatment may be used. If the cancer is diagnosed in the first stages, surgery may be used to treat it. If found in later stages, surgery may be used, as well as chemotherapy and/or radiation. In addition, patients may choose to use alternative therapies or complimentary therapies, such as acupuncture, to treat the pain and discomfort associated with the disease.
An individual’s age at the time of diagnosis, as well as when the cancer was diagnosed, factor into the prognosis. Unfortunately, because testicular mesothelioma is so rare and aggressive and is often found in late stages of development, the prognosis for survival is generally poor.