Symptoms can vary by mesothelioma type and stage.
Symptoms may take 10 – 50 years to emerge after exposure to asbestos.
Recognizing symptoms early can allow for more treatment options.
Palliative treatment may help improve symptoms and quality of life.
Common mesothelioma symptoms include chest pain, abdominal pain, coughing and difficulty breathing. Signs of mesothelioma cancer will vary based on the type, stage and other factors.
Mesothelioma symptoms may take decades to present after asbestos exposure. Signs of mesothelioma are often mistaken for symptoms of other, more common illnesses. Patients should discuss symptoms with their doctor as soon as possible. An early diagnosis may be able to improve prognosis.
What Are Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma?
Common signs of mesothelioma include:
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unexplained weight loss
Symptoms will vary from patient to patient. They can vary based on cancer type, stage, patient age and overall health. These factors may cause more symptoms or increase the severity of symptoms.
How Long Does It Take for Mesothelioma Symptoms to Emerge?
Mesothelioma symptoms can take 10 – 50 years to emerge after initial asbestos exposure. This is the latency period.
If you think you may have been exposed to asbestos, tell a doctor as soon as possible. Physicians can conduct imaging scans and frequent checkups to monitor for mesothelioma. Common imaging scans to look into the cause of symptoms include X-rays and CT scans.
If doctors diagnose mesothelioma early, the patient may:
- Have more mesothelioma treatment options available to them
- Be eligible for aggressive treatments, such as invasive surgery
- Experience longer survival by treating the cancer before it spreads
Can Mesothelioma Symptoms Be Misdiagnosed?
Mesothelioma symptoms are nonspecific. As a result, patients and physicians may mistake mesothelioma symptoms for signs of other, more common conditions. Common mesothelioma misdiagnoses include lung cancer and pneumonia.
If patients suspect asbestos exposure, they should tell their doctor immediately. Known history of asbestos exposure can aid with an accurate diagnosis. In many cases, symptoms may not emerge until years after initial exposure.
How Mesothelioma Symptoms Help Diagnosis
Symptoms can provide doctors with a starting point for diagnosing mesothelioma. This is especially the case if patients demonstrate common mesothelioma symptoms and have a known history of asbestos exposure.
If doctors can identify the location of symptoms, they can better determine what tests to perform and where.
For example, if a patient is experiencing chest pain, a physician will likely conduct a chest X-ray. If the patient experiences abdominal pain, their physician will likely focus on the abdominal cavity.
Once specialists locate the tumor, they can conduct a biopsy. A biopsy is the only definitive way to diagnose mesothelioma. It will confirm the cancer diagnosis and determine cell type.
Mesothelioma Symptoms by Type
Symptoms of mesothelioma cancer can vary by type. This is because the types of mesothelioma affect different areas of the body.
Quick Guide to Types of Mesothelioma
Common Symptoms by Mesothelioma Type
- Lower back or chest pain
- Persistent coughing
- Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Fluid buildup around the lungs (pleural effusion)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Fluid buildup (peritoneal effusion)
- Bowel obstruction
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Weakness and loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Irregular heartbeat or heart murmurs
- Fluid buildup (pericardial effusion)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Pain in the testes or groin
- Excess fluid in the scrotum
- Inflammation of the epididymis
- Lump or mass in the testicles
- Cyst in the epididymis
Some patients may experience other symptoms or could even be asymptomatic. The symptoms one patient has may vary greatly from another with the same diagnosis. Ultimately, patients should discuss what they are experiencing with a mesothelioma doctor.
Mesothelioma Symptoms by Stage
Mesothelioma signs can vary greatly by stage. Patients with an early-stage diagnosis often experience fewer symptoms or less severe symptoms than those with a late-stage diagnosis.
Pain medication and other palliative treatments can help ease symptoms. This will improve patient comfort and quality of life.
During the early stages of mesothelioma, there is minimal to no spreading. Stage 1 mesothelioma patients may notice coughing or chest/abdominal discomfort. By stage 2, they may experience shortness of breath and chest pain.
Stage 3 and stage 4 mesothelioma signal the cancer has spread to nearby organs and potentially the lymph nodes. As the cancer spreads, patients may experience additional symptoms. Existing symptoms may also become more severe.
What Other Factors May Impact Mesothelioma Symptoms?
There are characteristics specific to the individual that can impact symptoms. Examples include:
- Age: Older patients may experience more symptoms or more severe symptoms than younger patients.
- Overall health: Patients with underlying conditions or poor health may experience worse symptoms than those in good health.
- Amount of exposure: Individuals exposed to larger quantities of asbestos may experience symptoms sooner than others with small levels of exposure.
- Duration of exposure: Individuals exposed to asbestos over longer periods of time may experience symptoms sooner than others with short-term exposure.
Patients with a history of asbestos exposure should discuss risk factors with their healthcare provider.
Can Mesothelioma Symptoms Be Treated?
Palliative treatments can help mesothelioma patients cope with symptoms. Palliative care aims to keep the patient comfortable by reducing symptoms. As a result, patients may have a better quality of life. In some cases, palliative care can also help extend survival.
To address discomfort, pain and other side effects, patients may:
- Take pain medication
- Undergo palliative surgery, chemotherapy or radiation
- Participate in physical therapy
- Take yoga or meditation classes
- Reach out to a mental health professional
- Work with a dietician or nutritionist
For instance, many mesothelioma patients experience a buildup of excess fluid, which may cause pain and other symptoms. Surgery is a common option to remove tumors or buildup of fluid. This can relieve pressure on the organs. Palliative surgery can help with chest pain, abdominal pain and difficulty breathing. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can work similarly by shrinking tumors.
Patients should work with their medical care team to develop a treatment plan. Health providers can help patients address both physical and emotional side effects of their diagnosis.