Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma usually takes more than a decade to develop, and many symptoms of this rare cancer mirror those of common health issues. Therefore, detecting and diagnosing mesothelioma is difficult.

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Written by Jenna Campagna, RN

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What Are the Main Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Symptoms vary by the type and stage of mesothelioma. Symptoms can also factor into determining a patient’s prognosis. If you are displaying many of the most common mesothelioma symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately.

Symptoms by Mesothelioma Type

pleural

Pleural Mesothelioma

The most common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are chest pain, pleural effusions (fluid buildup in the pleura), painful breathing, fatigue and a persistent cough.

peritoneal

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

The regular symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are stomach pains, ascites (fluid buildup in the peritoneum), unexplained weight loss, constipation and decreased appetite.

pericardial

Pericardial Mesothelioma

The frequent symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma are chest pain, pericardial effusion (fluid buildup in the pericardium) and heart murmurs.

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Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pleural mesothelioma makes up 80% of cases and is most often caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, which lodge into the lining of your lungs (known as the pleura). These microscopic fibers cause irritation and inflammation in your pleura, which is comprised of two walls of mesothelial cells.

The irritation of these cells causes cellular mutation and tumors to form, which results in tissue thickening and the buildup of fluid around your lungs (pleural effusion). The buildup of fluid and thickening of this lining prevents your nearby lung from fully expanding. This causes chest discomfort and painful breathing.

Symptoms of Early-Stage Pleural Mesothelioma

Patients with an early-stage pleural mesothelioma often express features associated with many common illnesses. Early stages are more commonly known as Stage 1 and Stage 2.

If you have early-stage pleural mesothelioma, you’ll likely experience:

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Chest pain
  • Blood clots
  • Persistent coughing
  • Pleural effusions (fluid buildup)
  • Low-grade fever
  • Lower back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Body aches
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Chest pain
  • Blood clots
  • Persistent coughing
  • Pleural effusions (fluid buildup)
  • Low-grade fever
  • Lower back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Body aches

These symptoms are similar to those of various other disorders, such as pneumonia, common cold, asthma, influenza and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Pleural effusions and inflammation of the pleura are main sources of discomfort associated with pleural mesothelioma, but they are also linked to pneumonia and COPD.

According to a published book on malignant pleural mesothelioma, around 46% of patients experience shortness of breath. Around 10% of patients have a dry cough.

Pleural thickening is also common in other diseases. This effect is caused by scarring of the pleura. It causes a loss of elasticity in your lungs, which is essential for the organs to expand for normal breathing.

Pleural thickening is caused by tuberculosis, pleurisy and empyema (infection in the lung that causes a buildup of pus in the pleura). However, in mesothelioma, this is specifically caused by scarring of your pleura due to asbestos fibers irritating cellular linings.

Symptoms of Late-Stage Pleural Mesothelioma

The late stages of pleural mesothelioma have more specific symptoms but also include ones from the earlier stages. In stage 3 and stage 4, indicators of mesothelioma still include difficulty breathing, chest pains, pleural effusions and persistent coughing, but they may be more severe.

Many patients are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in later stages because they notice more unique symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Anemia
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Face or arm swelling
  • Hoarseness
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Anemia
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Face or arm swelling
  • Hoarseness

Treatment may be used to relieve pain and discomfort caused by these symptoms. For example, doctors may drain pleural fluid to reduce chest pain and make your breathing easier.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Peritoneal mesothelioma makes up around 20% of all cases and is most often caused by ingesting or swallowing asbestos dust. The sharp fibers reach the peritoneum and irritate the cells along this thin lining.

Peritoneal mesothelioma shares some symptoms with pleural mesothelioma, such as fatigue, excessive sweating, blood clots and unexplained weight loss. Peritoneal mesothelioma does not have the same staging system as pleural mesothelioma, so indicators of this cancer occur at various times for each patient.

Additional peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Fluid buildup in the peritoneum
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation or other bowel issues
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Fluid buildup in the peritoneum
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation or other bowel issues
  • Intestinal obstruction

Symptoms for Other Types of Mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma makes up less than 1% of mesothelioma cases, and the way asbestos fibers reach the pericardium (lining of the heart) is unknown.

People with pericardial mesothelioma often experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Irritation and thickening of the pericardium
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Pericardial bleeding
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pericardial effusions (fluid buildup in the pericardium)
  • Chest pain
  • Irritation and thickening of the pericardium
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Pericardial bleeding
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pericardial effusions (fluid buildup in the pericardium)

In extremely rare cases, mesothelioma can form in mesothelial cells lining the testicles. These cells make up tissue that is part of the peritoneum extending into the scrotum.

Misdiagnosis

Pleural Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis is common for pleural mesothelioma because many symptoms are not unique to this cancer. Cases are often misdiagnosed as influenza or pneumonia in the early stages.

For instance, chest pain and shortness of breath are very common in the early pleural mesothelioma stages. However, some patients reported that the chest pain they experienced was dull and insignificant. So they did not associate these warnings to a malignant, aggressive disease.

Overall, symptoms vary by stage and are contingent upon the patient. Some patients show few symptoms — and no unique signs — until the late stages of mesothelioma, whereas some experience telling symptoms during Stage 1.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma is also common — and for similar reasons. Many symptoms are not specific to this cancer.

Additionally, the disease is rare, accounting for just 10% to 15% of all mesothelioma cases. Therefore, only a few hundred Americans each year develop peritoneal mesothelioma, which is often misdiagnosed as a hernia or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Pericardial Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis of pericardial mesothelioma occurs because the symptoms associated with the cancer are so general. It’s commonly mistaken for pericarditis (inflammation of the pericardium) and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart).

Early Detection

Talk with your doctor if you experience lasting signs that you may have mesothelioma. Fortunately, the diagnostic process is improving. Learn more about what methods are used for detecting and diagnosing mesothelioma.

Metastatic Mesothelioma Symptoms

Metastatic mesothelioma describes a cancer that has or still is spreading throughout your body. Symptoms occur in areas that are not linked to mesothelioma, such as the spine or throat. Experiencing any metastatic symptoms is a sign of mesothelioma metastasis, which is the spread of cancerous mesothelial cells to other regions of the body.

Some symptoms of metastatic mesothelioma you should remember are:

  • Hemoptysis – Coughing or spitting up blood
  • Laryngeal Nerve Palsy – Damage to the throat, resulting in paralysis of the voice box
  • Nerve issues – Nerve malfunction in arms or spinal cord
  • Horner’s Syndrome – A conjunction of eye-related issues such as a drooping eyelid, constriction of pupils, decreased tear production and conjunctival redness

These are signs of advanced mesothelioma, and you should immediately find a doctor if you’ve noticed these recently. We can help you find a mesothelioma specialist for your specific diagnosis.

Common Questions About Mesothelioma Symptoms

How do you know if you have mesothelioma?

Some of the common symptoms can indicate the presence of mesothelioma. For pleural mesothelioma, chest pain, coughing, difficulty breathing and fluid buildup in the chest are all evidence of the cancer. For peritoneal mesothelioma, stomach pain, nausea and indigestion, and fluid buildup in the abdominal region are the main symptoms.

What are the late-stage symptoms of mesothelioma?

Some symptoms occur in the early stages, while more severe ones occur in later stages. These are stage 3 and stage 4, also called the “end stages” of mesothelioma. For pleural mesothelioma, the late-stage symptoms include night sweats, anemia, coughing up blood, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness and swelling of the face or arms.

What are the early-stage symptoms of mesothelioma?

The common symptoms in stage 1 and stage 2 are shortness of breath, fatigue, low-grade fever, weight loss, body aches and fluid buildup in the region of the disease.

What should you do if you experience mesothelioma symptoms?

If you are experiencing any common symptoms, talk to your primary physician immediately. They’ll use scans to detect any abnormalities in your body. If they see any unusual masses on the results, they’ll likely do additional scans and may request a biopsy for definitive proof.

Last Edited: October 22, 2020.

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