Professor dies from a rare type of mesothelioma arising in the heart
By Kathy Cooke. 25th June 2014
A well known professor at Daytona State College, USA has died as a result of the very rare type of cancer – Mesothelioma of the Heart - also known as Pericardial Mesothelioma.
Rick Doolin taught anatomy at the college to many groups of medical professionals and was well known for his comic like lectures.
During the early part of 2013 he experienced difficulty in breathing for a few months but it was only when undergoing open heart surgery one year ago that the rare diagnosis of pericardial mesothelioma was made.
This type of mesothelioma does not have a good prognosis and most patients die within 12 months – only 5% are alive 5 years post diagnosis.
Professor Doolin was informed by his doctors that he only had months to live but in fact he survived for twice as long as expected. Management of his disease involved drug treatment and he underwent several rounds of chemotherapy. Unfortunately his disease ceased responding to the drugs and the professor died on June 22nd 2014.
Mesothelioma of the Heart
In 2011 there were 2570 new cases of mesothelioma reported in the UK - the majority of these patients having pleural mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma of the heart usually contributes less than 5% of all cases. In the United States, as in the UK, this type of mesothelioma is very rare and less than 200 cases are reported there each year.
There is far less known about this rare type of cancer compared with pleural mesothelioma.
As in other types, it is thought to be related to exposure to asbestos and has a long latent period. The theory is that the asbestos fibres get into the bloodstream somehow and travel round the body before they eventually lodge themselves in the lining of the heart. The pericardium is the protective sac covering the heart – hence the name pericardial mesothelioma given to this particular subset of the disease.
The symptoms of this type of mesothelioma are difficult to distinguish from other more common conditions making diagnosis difficult and often late. As the tumour invades the sac around the heart, it stops the heart from moving freely so it cannot deliver oxygen so easily to the rest of the body. This in turn causes problems in organs around the body in addition to thoracic symptoms including chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea - all similar symptoms to a heart attack.
There is no real staging model for this disease since the patient numbers are so low. Treatment tends to be drug therapy of some kind as surgery / radiotherapy is complicated by the presence of the heart. Unfortunately any advances in treatment for this particular mesothelioma are slow due to the low numbers of patients included in any trials.
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Kathy Cooke MA. BSc
Cancer consultant and advisor
Kathy has worked in the cancer field for over 30 years. She was course leader for the MSc in Radiotherapy and Oncology at University of Hertfordshire. Then pre-treatment radiotherapy manager at the Cromwell Hospital in London and Partnership Quality Lead for Macmillan Cancer Support.. Read more >