Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma symptoms can often be confused with the warning signs of other diseases. If you have a history of asbestos exposure, it is important to know the symptoms of mesothelioma and seek treatment immediately for earlier detection and an improved prognosis.

Key Points

  • It is very difficult to diagnose mesothelioma based on symptoms alone – usually a biopsy is required.
  • The symptoms experienced by mesothelioma patients depend on the cell type and location of the tumor(s) in the body.
  • If you experience symptoms of mesothelioma, contact your doctor right away.

What are the Most Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma cancer can take decades to develop and early symptoms are often vague and mimic the symptoms of other, more common conditions. As a result, individuals may not pay serious attention to their symptoms, and physicians often wrongly diagnose mesothelioma for other disorders. Once noticeable symptoms develop, the disease is usually in its late stages.

Symptoms can vary significantly depending on the type of mesothelioma a person has. Most people in the early stage of mesothelioma will have no symptoms or will hardly notice them. The most common signs and symptoms of mesothelioma vary by location and type.

Most Common Mesothelioma Symptoms by Type

Pleural Mesothelioma

  • Chest or lower back pain
  • Persistent coughing
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion)
  • Hoarseness or difficulty speaking
  • Blood clots (less common)

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

  • Abdominal pain (acute to severe)
  • Swelling of the abdominal region due to fluid accumulation
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Pericardial Mesothelioma

  • Abnormal heart sounds
    or murmurs
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Pericardial effusion
    – Fluid buildup

Details of Mesothelioma Symptoms by Type

Symptoms of mesothelioma are frequently confused with symptoms of other diseases. Unfortunately, this often leads to wrong diagnosis, which can delay treatment and make it harder to survive the disease.

Mesothelioma symptoms develop near the location of the tumor and of reveal the pattern of progress as the disease spreads throughout the body. In advanced stages of mesothelioma, symptoms can effect on the part(s) of the body further away from where it initially developed and cause system-wide problems.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Many pleural mesothelioma patients show no symptoms until a late stage of the cancer. Early symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath may be dull or slight, and they are often ignored or thought to be due to aging or some other disorder.

Pleural mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as influenza (flu), pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and even lung cancer.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

The appearance of symptoms for peritoneal mesothelioma varies considerably depending on the individual. The most common signs are abdominal pain and swelling, significant weight loss, and fluid build-up in the abdomen (ascites). In addition, individuals may experience nausea and fever, or show signs of anemia.

Inguinal hernia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are commonly mistaken diagnoses of peritoneal mesothelioma.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms associated with pericardial mesothelioma are chest pain, fluid build-up around the heart (pericardial effusion), and heart murmurs. Individuals may also experience shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), fever and night sweats.

Depending on the dominant symptom, pericardial mesothelioma can be mistaken for heart failure, coronary heart disease, inflammation of the lining of the heart (pericarditis) and muscle (myocarditis).

If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with mesothelioma, talk to your family doctor to discuss potential causes of the symptoms and determine whether mesothelioma or some other disease may be the culprit. It is extremely important to not wait, since mesothelioma is a very aggressive form of cancer and the prognosis is best for those who catch it early.

What Should I Do if I Exhibit Mesothelioma Symptoms?

Your doctor may refer you to a thoracic oncologist or another specialist for consultation and further testing and diagnosis. If you are diagnosed with having mesothelioma, you will need to explore treatment options. You should also learn about what financial assistance may be available, and understand your legal rights as a mesothelioma patient.

The Best Way to Prevent Mesothelioma is Early Detection

Mesothelioma Symptoms by Stage

The symptoms of mesothelioma in the early stages of the disease are typically mild and are easily dismissed for symptoms of other, more common conditions. Because of this and due to the long latency period of the disease, mesothelioma is typically not diagnosed until it is advanced into the later stages with more pronounced symptoms.

Staging of mesothelioma is used to determine how far the cancer has spread and is an important determinant of the prognosis (outlook). Generally, symptoms are worse in later stages of the cancer than in earlier stages.

Symptoms by Stage

Stage 1: Most people have no major symptoms during this stage. Individuals may develop a slight cough or notice minimal discomfort in the chest or abdomen.

Stage 2: Symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath, pain, or weight loss and bloating may become more obvious, but may still be vague.

Stage 3: As the mesothelioma spreads to nearby organs, symptoms may become more severe, including increased difficulty breathing and chest pain (pleural) or bowel obstruction and abdominal pain (peritoneal).

Stage 4: The severity of symptoms increases and new symptoms develop. Symptoms include difficulty breathing and swallowing, severe pain, and digestive problems.

Several Factors Affect Mesothelioma Symptoms

The latency period for mesothelioma is between 30 and 45 years. Because of the lengthy period of time between exposure to asbestos and the development of symptoms, mesothelioma is one of the hardest diseases to diagnose. Several factors influence how long it takes symptoms of mesothelioma develop.

Occupation: Working conditions with high levels of asbestos exposure may cause symptoms to develop sooner than those with low exposure levels.

Amount and Duration: Individuals exposed to large amounts of asbestos over long periods of time may develop symptoms more quickly than those exposed to a small amount for a short period of time.

Asbestos Type: Exposure to crocidolite, a particularly hazardous type of asbestos, may cause symptoms to manifest sooner than exposure to other types of asbestos.

The location of mesothelioma, cell type, and the extent to which the cancer has spread beyond the original site also influence how and when symptoms will start to manifest.


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Sources & About the Writer [+]
  • 1 Chekol S. S., Sun C.C. “Malignant mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis: diagnostic studies and differential diagnosis.” Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. 2012;136(1):113-117. PMID: 22208496.
  • 2 Sterman, D.H., et al. “Clinical presentation, diagnosis, and staging of malignant pleural mesothelioma.” UpToDate.
  • 3 Ribak J., Lilis R., Suzuki Y., Penner L., Selikoff I. J. “Malignant mesothelioma in a cohort of asbestos insulation workers: clinical presentation, diagnosis, and causes of death.” British Journal of Industrial Medicine. 1988;45(3):182-187. PMID: 3348994. PMCID: PMC1007965.
  • About The Writer Photo of Dan Heil Dan Heil

    Dan is a contributing writer for The Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center. He hopes to help educate on everything related to a mesothelioma diagnosis and answer any questions patients or family members may have.