Mesothelioma is an insidious and deadly form of cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, this particular cancer can lay dormant for up to 50 years. The symptoms of this disease are often very subtle in the beginning and may go unnoticed. This can lead to mesothelioma being left undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
While there is still much to be learned about mesothelioma, research shows that a person has a higher rate of survival if the cancer is caught in its earliest stages. If a person believes he or she has been exposed to asbestos, it is important to relay that information to a doctor. The doctor will likely schedule regular screenings to watch for early symptoms of mesothelioma.
Discovery of those early symptoms—coupled with an accurate diagnosis—may lead to a more favorable prognosis and more treatment options for those with mesothelioma.
The First Symptoms
The first symptoms of mesothelioma are generally quite mild. Around 90% of patients will notice a shortness of breath and a heavy feeling in the chest area. This shortness of breath or heaviness is caused by a fluid buildup in the lungs.
These two symptoms should be taken seriously, especially if a person has a history of asbestos exposure. However, because the symptoms do not seem serious at first, many patients may not realize they should seek out medical care.
Early Symptoms: Pleural Mesothelioma
- Back, chest, or side pain
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Persistent cough
- Sweating and fevers
Pleural effusion (fluid buildup around the lungs) may also be detected during testing. It is extremely important that individuals visit their doctor if they notice any of these symptoms. The longer mesothelioma is allowed to go untreated, the less favorable the outcome .
Early Symptoms: Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma can also develop in the abdominal cavity. Any tumor found in that area is referred to as peritoneal mesothelioma. An early symptom of peritoneal mesothelioma is often abdominal pain. Other symptoms may include the following:
- Swelling or fluid in the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
If you have any of these symptoms—and believe you were exposed to asbestos—see your doctor right away. They may be an early sign of mesothelioma.
Early Symptoms: Pericardial and Testicular Mesothelioma
It is harder to identify the early signs of the other mesotheliomas because they are extremely rare. Chest pain and a struggle to breathe may be signs of pericardial mesothelioma, which involves the lining around the heart. A swelling or lump on a testicle may be an early symptom of testicular mesothelioma.
Similar Diseases and Illnesses
Any of the earlier mentioned symptoms can also indicate asbestosis, which is a benign result of asbestos exposure. However, an asbestosis diagnosis does not mean a person will not develop mesothelioma later. It is crucial that individuals have their symptoms evaluated to determine whether they are benign or malignant. Asbestosis will need to be closely monitored as well, just in case it becomes malignant, and it can pose serious health concerns.
- Mayo Clinic
- American Cancer Society: Can Malignant Mesothelioma be Found Early?
- American Cancer Society: How is Malignant Mesothelioma Diagnosed?
- Annals of Internal Medicine
- National Institutes of Health: Malignant Mesothelioma
- National Institutes of Health: Clinical Presentation of Peritoneal Mesothelioma
- National Institutes of Health: Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma
- National Cancer Institute
- Vanderbilt University Medical Center Department of Thoracic Surgery