Mesothelioma Symptoms

The most common mesothelioma symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and a cough that won’t go away. Patients may have other symptoms depending on where the cancer forms in their body and how far it has spread. See a doctor if you have symptoms of mesothelioma to get them treated.

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What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

The three most common symptoms of mesothelioma are pain in the chest, a chronic cough, and shortness of breath. Malignant mesothelioma symptoms often appear 10-50 years after exposure to asbestos, the only known cause of this cancer.

Other notable mesothelioma symptoms and signs include:

  • Blood in stool (fecal matter)
  • Bloody sputum (mucus coughed up from lungs)
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid buildup in different parts of the body’s internal lining
  • Rib pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Upper back pain
  • Vomiting blood
  • Weight loss

Further, patients may have other symptoms depending on the type of mesothelioma they have and how far it has spread.

If you have possible symptoms or signs of mesothelioma, don’t wait: See a doctor as soon as possible. Mesothelioma is a very aggressive cancer and can be fatal in a matter of months. An early diagnosis and treatment can help you manage your mesothelioma symptoms and live longer.

The Mesothelioma Resource Group can help you find top doctors and treatments for your mesothelioma symptoms. Learn more in our free mesothelioma resource guide.

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Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

There are four main types of mesothelioma and pleural mesothelioma is the most common. This type of cancer develops in the pleura (lung lining), so many symptoms are related to breathing.

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dry cough and coughing up blood
  • Hoarseness
  • Fatigue
  • Lumps of skin beneath the chest
  • Pleural effusion (fluid buildup in pleura)
  • Problems with swallowing
  • Rib pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shoulder pain
  • Swelling in the arms and face
  • Upper back pain
  • Unexplainable weight loss

The Cleveland Clinic notes that shortness of breath and chest pain are the most common pleural mesothelioma cancer symptoms.

Pleural effusions are another common symptom of malignant pleural mesothelioma. A 2022 study from the journal Pathology International found that over 80% of pleural mesothelioma cases begin with pleural effusions.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the peritoneum (lining of the abdominal cavity), so patients experience symptoms that often relate to the stomach and digestion.

Common symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Ascites (abdominal fluid buildup and swelling)
  • Blood in vomit or fecal matter
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Constipation
  • Fever
  • Hernia in the abdominal wall
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Night sweats
  • Pain in the upper back or ribs
  • Weight loss

The journal Translational Lung Cancer Research found that abdominal swelling and pain were the most common symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma. Other symptoms, like rib and upper back pain, are less common.

You can afford medical care to treat mesothelioma symptoms with our help. Call (888) 360-2406 now to learn more.

Symptoms of Other Mesothelioma Types

Besides pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, this cancer can form in the pericardium (heart lining) and tunica vaginalis (testicle lining) in very rare cases.

Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma are related to the chest and heart. The tumors grow within the heart lining, which can disturb the heart’s beating and cause discomfort.

Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms and signs include:

  • Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat)
  • Cardiac tamponade (fluid buildup around the heart)
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Thickening of the heart lining

Further, some pericardial mesothelioma patients may suffer from weight loss, appetite loss, nausea, and abdominal pain. Heart failure has also been reported as a symptom of pericardial mesothelioma in the medical journal Case Reports in Surgery.

Testicular mesothelioma symptoms usually affect the scrotum and testicles. The most common symptom of this type is testicular swelling, as noted by the journal Case Reports in Oncological Medicine.

Testicular swelling is often caused by fluid buildup within the scrotum, which is also known as a hydrocele. A hard lump or mass of cancer may also be present in the scrotum.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma by Stage

Pleural mesothelioma is classified into one of four stages. The symptoms of mesothelioma worsen as the cancer stage increases.

Patients often have little to no symptoms in the early stages (1 and 2) of pleural mesothelioma. Penn Medicine notes that most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the later stages (3 and 4).

Many mesothelioma symptoms and signs like chest pain, weight loss, or a cough are mild at first, so patients might not go see a doctor right away. By the time the symptoms are cause for concern, the cancer has already spread in many cases and is harder to treat.

All other types of mesothelioma don’t have official stages, but doctors can classify these cases as localized or advanced. Patients with other types of mesothelioma usually don’t have symptoms until the cancer has spread, just like those with pleural mesothelioma.

Thankfully, treatments are available to ease mesothelioma symptoms no matter when a diagnosis is made. Learn more with our free mesothelioma resource guide.

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Diagnosing Mesothelioma Symptoms

It’s in your best interest to see a doctor right away if you have possible symptoms of mesothelioma. Early detection of the symptoms is key to getting medical care that can help you live longer.

The first step in diagnosing possible mesothelioma symptoms is to meet with your doctor for an initial assessment and physical exam.

Did You Know?

When you see a doctor for your symptoms, make sure to tell them about your history of asbestos exposure. Asbestos is the only known cause and the biggest risk factor for mesothelioma. If your doctor knows you were exposed to asbestos, they can rule out more common illnesses that also cause the same symptoms.

If doctors think you might have cancer at this point, they’ll order imaging scans to look inside your body for possibly cancerous growths or other abnormalities.

Imaging scans used to diagnose mesothelioma include X-rays, CT scans, PET scans, and MRI scans. Blood tests may also be used to look for markers (unique substances that cancer cells produce, such as proteins).

Doctors must then do one final test — a biopsy — to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis based on the symptoms present.

“Symptoms and test results may strongly suggest that a person has mesothelioma, but the actual diagnosis is made by removing cells from an abnormal area and looking at them under a microscope. This is called a biopsy.”

— American Cancer Society (ACS)

Challenges in Diagnosing Mesothelioma Symptoms

Between 14% and 50% of mesothelioma cases are misdiagnosed, partly because the symptoms are shared by many other diseases that are more common. A misdiagnosis means the symptoms might not be properly treated and the cancer will spread.

Mesothelioma symptoms could be mistaken for:

  • Benign (not cancerous) heart tumors when it’s really pericardial mesothelioma
  • Epididymitis when it’s actually testicular mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer when it’s really pleural mesothelioma
  • Ovarian cancer when it’s peritoneal mesothelioma
  • Pneumonia when it’s actually pleural mesothelioma

Misdiagnosing mesothelioma signs and symptoms can have serious consequences. For example, in 2006, Julie was a young mother who’d recently lost her father to asbestos-related lung cancer. When she began having symptoms like bowel movement problems and digestive issues, she told her doctors and received imaging scans.

Doctors assumed she had ovarian cancer after finding a lump in her pelvis. However, after undergoing an initial surgery to remove the lump, the shocking truth was revealed: Julie actually had peritoneal mesothelioma and had been misdiagnosed.

While Julie miraculously is still alive today thanks to very aggressive treatments, far too many others are misdiagnosed due to vague symptoms and don’t get the medical care they need in time.

Treating Mesothelioma Symptoms

Different cancer treatment options can help lessen mesothelioma symptoms and possibly help patients live for years or decades. There are two different groups of mesothelioma treatments for symptoms: life-extending treatments and palliative treatments.

Life-extending mesothelioma treatments are very aggressive since the goal is to remove or destroy as much of the cancer as possible. These treatments also reduce the patient’s mesothelioma symptoms since there will be less of the cancer in their body.

Life-extending treatments that can ease mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Chemotherapy: Medications are given to a patient to destroy mesothelioma tumors.
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment allows the immune system to kill mesothelioma cells that would otherwise be able to hide from it.
  • Radiation therapy: Doctors can break up cancer tumors using concentrated beams of energy that are similar to X-rays, but are more precise and powerful.
  • Surgery: Oncologists (cancer doctors) remove all cancer tumors they can see from the body. Non-vital organs damaged by the cancer may also be removed (like the pleura or a lung).

All life-extending mesothelioma treatments have side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, and hair loss. Doctors will weigh these side effects with a patient’s overall health and their existing mesothelioma symptoms when creating a cancer care plan.

Further, some mesothelioma patients may not be able to undergo life-extending treatments if their cancer is too widespread. These patients may qualify for palliative care options, which focus on easing painful mesothelioma symptoms and improving quality of life.

Palliative treatments for mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Fluid removal procedures: Fluid buildup in the pleura, peritoneum, and pericardium can cause discomfort and difficulty breathing. Doctors can insert a needle to remove these fluids.
  • Palliative surgeries: Minor palliative surgeries can remove parts of tumors and, in turn, ease some symptoms of mesothelioma. For example, pleural mesothelioma patients can get a minor surgery to breathe better if the tumors are preventing the lung from fully expanding.
  • Pleurodesis: This procedure is also used to treat fluid buildup (AKA pleural effusions) in cases of pleural mesothelioma. Doctors insert talcum powder into the lung lining to seal it shut, preventing fluid from entering.
  • Shunts or catheters: If fluid keeps building up in the linings of affected organs despite other treatments, doctors may surgically insert a shunt or catheter. A shunt allows the fluid to move into another part of the body (i.e. from the lungs to the abdomen) so it will be absorbed. A catheter will allow the patient to drain the fluid at home.

Scaled-back versions of life-extending treatments (like chemotherapy and radiation) may also be used as palliative care to ease mesothelioma symptoms.

Finally, certain patients may qualify for select clinical trials depending on their mesothelioma symptoms, stage, type, and other factors. Clinical trials are where doctors test out newer and possibly more effective treatments.

A mesothelioma specialist can help determine the best treatments for your mesothelioma symptoms. Connect with top specialists now by calling (888) 360-2406.

Help For Your Mesothelioma Symptoms

Don’t ignore possible mesothelioma symptoms if you were exposed to asbestos decades ago. Though the symptoms of mesothelioma are often mild at first, this cancer can be fatal in months without proper medical care.

Mesothelioma and its symptoms can bring a lot of stress, fear, and anxiety, but the Mesothelioma Resource Center is here for you.

Our caring, experienced, and knowledgeable patient advocates can help you:

  • Determine possible mesothelioma symptoms
  • Find top cancer centers and doctors in your area
  • Pursue financial aid and justice

Don’t wait: Learn how we can help you identify and treat your mesothelioma symptoms. Get a free mesothelioma resource guide right now.

FAQs About Mesothelioma Symptoms

What are the most common symptoms of mesothelioma?

Chest pain, a cough that won’t go away, and shortness of breath are three of the most common mesothelioma symptoms. Fluid buildup in the affected part of the body is another common symptom.

When do the symptoms of mesothelioma appear?

Symptoms of mesothelioma typically appear 10-50 years after asbestos exposure as the cancer has a very long latency period (time between exposure and symptoms).

Most patients will have little to no symptoms when the cancer is first forming. Mesothelioma symptoms often become noticeable only after the cancer has started to spread (metastasize) into other parts of the body.

What are the early warning signs of mesothelioma?

Some of the early signs of mesothelioma are also the most common ones: shortness of breath, pain in the chest, and a cough.

Because these symptoms are shared by many other conditions, a patient may ignore them at first. However, the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma will not clear up on their own and could even worsen without prompt attention.

When should I see a doctor if I might have mesothelioma symptoms?

You should see a doctor as soon as you can if you have possible mesothelioma symptoms. Make sure to tell your doctor if you or a loved one was ever exposed to asbestos fibers. This information can help them rule out other conditions that might be the cause of your symptoms.

Diagnosing mesothelioma early on is essential to getting treatments that can relieve your symptoms and, hopefully, help you live for years to come.

Mesothelioma Symptoms was founded by a team of advocates to educate people about this aggressive form of cancer. Mesothelioma affects thousands of people each year. We help give hope to those impacted by mesothelioma.

19 References
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  2. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). How is malignant mesothelioma diagnosed? Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html

  3. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Palliative procedures for malignant mesothelioma. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/treating/palliative-procedures.html

  4. Badiyan, S., Molitoris, J., Zhu, M., Glass, E., Diwanji, T., & Simone, C. (2018, April). Proton beam therapy for malignant pleural mesothelioma. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5960661/

  5. Broeckx, G., & Pauwels, P. (2018, October). Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma: A Review. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6204422/

  6. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Peritoneal mesothelioma: Staging, symptoms & causes. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/23973-peritoneal-mesothelioma

  7. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Pleural mesothelioma: Asbestos exposure, symptoms, prognosis. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15044-pleural-mesothelioma

  8. Iliff, J., Iliff, J., Bart, N., et. al. Pericardial mesothelioma in a 35-year-old male with ulcerative colitis. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCIMAGING.118.008659

  9. Mayo Clinic. (2020, October 20). Mesothelioma. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mesothelioma/symptoms-causes/syc-20375022

  10. MD Anderson Cancer Center. (2021, September 15). 6 things to know about peritoneal mesothelioma. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/what-is-peritoneal-mesothelioma-diagnosis-and-treatment.h00-159464001.html

  11. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. (n.d.). Stages of Mesothelioma. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/types/mesothelioma/diagnosis/stages

  12. Mesothelioma Veterans Center (Director). (2022, June 30). Mesothelioma Symptoms [Video file]. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhMglDb5yBI

  13. NYU Langone. (n.d.). Types of malignant mesothelioma. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://nyulangone.org/conditions/malignant-mesothelioma/types

  14. Pathology International. (n.d.). Update of pathological diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma using genomic-based morphological techniques, for both histological and cytological investigations. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/pin.13235

  15. Ramirez Sevilla, C., Admella Salvador, C., Feliu Canaleta, J., Llopis Manzanera, J., Barranco Sanz, M., Romero Martin, J., & Bernal Salguero, S. (2017, January 12). Two case reports of benign testicular mesothelioma and review of the literature. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/crionm/2017/5419635/

  16. Ricciardi, S., Cardillo, G., Zirafa, C., Carleo, F., Facciolo, F., Fontanini, G., . . . Melfi, F. (2018, January). Surgery for malignant pleural mesothelioma: An international guidelines review. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5830571/

  17. Savarrakhsh, A., Vakilpour, A., Davani, S., Daskareh, M., Morsaghian, M., Salari, A., & Mirrazeghi, S. (2021, October 13). Malignant primary pericardial mesothelioma presenting as effusive constrictive pericarditis: A case report study – journal of cardiothoracic surgery. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://cardiothoracicsurgery.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13019-021-01684-8

  18. Tajjiou, M., Wild, W., Sayed, N., Flauaus, A., Divo, M., & Schwarzbach, M. (2019, September 11). Primary pericardial mesothelioma, which was veiled by a pleural empyema: A case report and review. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/cris/2019/2896810/

  19. Vimercati, L., Cavone, D., Delfino, M., De Maria, L., Caputi, A., Ferri, G., & Serio, G. (2019, August 30). Asbestos exposure and malignant mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis: A systematic review and the experience of the Apulia (southern Italy) Mesothelioma Register – Environmental Health. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-019-0512-4

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