Symptoms

Early symptoms of mesothelioma are often confused with other diseases.

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Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma symptoms do not usually manifest themselves until anywhere from 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos, at advanced stages of the disease. This makes the disease extremely difficult to diagnose until the disease has advanced, limiting treatment options. Additionally, many symptoms of mesothelioma are commonly associated with other diseases and ailments, making diagnosis even more complicated.

Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Fluid in the chest, lungs, or abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to sleep
  • Husky voice
  • Difficulty swallowing

Symptoms by Type of Mesothelioma

Symptoms vary according to the type of mesothelioma.

PleuralPeritonealPericardial
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Pain in chest or abdomen
  • Pleural effusion (fluid in the chest)
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to sleep
  • Husky voice
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Localized abdominal pain
  • Abdominal distension
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Peritoneal effusion (fluid buildup in the abdomen)
  • Painful bowel obstructions
  • Pericardial effusion (fluid buildup around the heart)
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Dyspnea
  • Paradoxical pulse
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Generalized weakness

Because the three major types of the disease are similar but originate in different parts of the body, the patient is likely to have symptoms that overlap. For example, nearly all mesothelioma patients suffer from shortness of breath and fatigue, but the pain may be more apparent in the abdominal/stomach area for peritoneal patients and in the chest for those with pleural or pericardial mesothelioma.

The growing tumors cause the pleura, pericardium, or peritoneum to expand, allowing fluid to enter. That generally causes pain – acute to severe – in the affected regions, such as the chest or abdomen. Breathing difficulties also make it hard to sleep and often result in loss of appetite and, eventually, weight loss.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms by Stage

Pleural mesothelioma is staged similar to other types of cancers. Symptoms vary according to the stage of the disease, and generally don’t appear until the tumors are quite advanced. Many symptoms are caused by the physical presence of the tumors, meaning that until they have grown to sufficient size, symptoms are relatively minor and/or generalized. As tumors grow and eventually metastasize, symptoms become more severe.

Shortness of breath and persistent coughing, most common in later stages of pleural mesothelioma, generally bring a patient to the doctor’s office. Both difficulty breathing and persistent coughing are caused by the lungs’ inability to expand properly due to tumors in the pleural region.

Stage IStage IIStage IIIStage IV
Tumors are small and localizedTumors are larger and may have spread to neighboring lung tissueTumors have spread through the pleura and to neighboring tissues and organsTumors have metastasized throughout the chest cavity and the rest of the body
  • Fluid effusion
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Fluid effusion
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Pleural thickening
  • Weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pleural effusion
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Pleural thickening
  • Weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Pleural effusion
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Chest pain and tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia
  • Hemoptysis
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)

Recognizing Symptoms

Symptoms of mesothelioma vary from case to case and with the severity of the illness.The general overall health of the individual, as well as his/her age, may also play a role in how the patient is affected by the disease and which symptoms are most bothersome.

One of the most difficult problems with diagnosing mesothelioma and connecting the symptoms with the disease is the fact that so many of the symptoms can easily be mistaken for other more common (and less serious) chest or respiratory diseases like flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, heart disease, and others.

A doctor well versed in mesothelioma treatment will take time to investigate a patient’s history and hopefully connect past exposure to asbestos with the symptoms. Patients can also assist their doctor if they were knowingly exposed. Anyone that was ever exposed to asbestos, even if it was decades ago, should inform their doctor of the exposure. That information will not only aid the doctor in diagnosis but will also help eliminate the need for many costly and uncomfortable tests that may be ordered while attempting to arrive at a conclusive determination.