Mesothelioma symptoms rarely appear early, and later stage symptoms can mirror those of non-life-threatening conditions, making mesothelioma difficult to detect.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Patients with mesothelioma experience a variety of symptoms that vary by type and stage. Symptoms can be caused by irritation or fluid buildup in the lungs or abdomen caused by tumor growth. Symptoms can also be a factor in determining a patient’s prognosis. Anyone displaying the symptoms below should see a doctor immediately, especially if they’ve been exposed to asbestos in the past.

Symptoms By Mesothelioma Type

  • Pleural Mesothelioma

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

  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma

    The most common symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are stomach pains, ascites (fluid buildup), unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite.

  • Pericardial Mesothelioma

    The most common symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma are chest pains, pericardial effusion (fluid buildup) and heart murmurs.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pleural Mesothelioma Body
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pleural mesothelioma is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, which become trapped in the lining of the lungs, known as the pleura. These microscopic fibers cause irritation and inflammation in the pleura. This inflammation causes thickening in the layers of the pleura and the buildup of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion). The buildup of fluid and thickening of the lining surrounding the lungs prevents the lung from fully expanding. This causes chest discomfort and painful breathing.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms (Stages 1 & 2)

Patients in the early stages of pleural mesothelioma do not exhibit many symptoms. Those that do show are not specific to the disease. Mesothelioma symptoms common in the early stages are:

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent coughing
  • Pleural effusions (fluid buildup)
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Body aches

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

    Up to 25 percent of patients have symptoms like dyspnea and chest pain for approximately 6 months before seeing a doctor.

    Pleural thickening is another result of pleural mesothelioma that is common in other diseases. This is caused by the scarring of the pleura. It causes a loss of elasticity in the lungs, which is essential for the lung to expand for normal breathing.

    Pleural thickening can also be 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 the pleura due to asbestos.

    Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms (Stages 3 & 4)

    Late stages of pleural mesothelioma have more specific symptoms, but also include symptoms from the earlier stages. In stages 3 and 4, symptoms still include difficulty breathing, chest pains, and coughing, but these symptoms may be more severe.

    Symptoms specific to pleural mesothelioma begin to emerge in these stages. This is when most patients are diagnosed. These symptoms may include:

    • Fever and/or night sweats
    • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
    • Painful breathing
    • Fatigue
    • Anemia
    • Persistent pain in the chest or rib region
    • Persistent coughing
    • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
    • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
    • Pleural effusions

    During these stages, treatment may be used to relieve pain and discomfort associated with various symptoms. For example, doctors may drain pleural effusions to reduce chest pain and make breathing easier.

    Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

    Peritoneal mesothelioma shares some symptoms with pleural mesothelioma, such as fatigue and unexplained weight loss. However, there are considerably fewer cases compared to pleural mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma does not have an accepted stage classification system, so the time symptoms occur varies with each patient.

    Peritoneal Mesothelioma Body
    Peritoneal Mesothelioma List

    Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms


    Pleural Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

    Misdiagnoses are common because symptoms are not unique to pleural mesothelioma. These cases are often misdiagnosed as influenza or pneumonia in the earlier stages. Chest pain and shortness of breath are very common in the early stages of the disease, and up to a third of patients have experienced shortness of breath without chest pain. Some patients reported the chest pain they experienced was dull and insignificant.

    Overall, pleural mesothelioma symptoms vary by stage and are contingent upon the patient. Some patients show virtually no symptoms until the late stages of mesothelioma, whereas some experience symptoms in Stage 1.

    Peritoneal Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

    Misdiagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma is also common. There are similar reasons for misdiagnosis as there are with pleural mesothelioma. That is, non-specific symptoms and the rarity of mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as a hernia or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

    Early Detection

    Patients who experience symptoms of mesothelioma should talk with their doctor to properly diagnose their condition. Luckily, diagnoses for mesothelioma are always getting better. Learn more about what methods are used to detect and diagnose mesothelioma.

    Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

    Pericardial mesothelioma makes up less than 1 percent of mesothelioma cases, and the exact origin of the disease is unknown. Symptoms associated with pericardial mesothelioma are:

    • Chest pain
    • Pericardial thickening
    • Irregular heartbeats
    • Pericardial bleeding
    • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
    • Pericardial effusion (fluid buildup)

    Misdiagnosis of pericardial mesothelioma is common because the symptoms associated with the cancer are so general. The most common misdiagnoses for pericardial mesothelioma are pericarditis (inflammation of the pericardium) and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart).

    Metastatic Symptoms

    Symptoms may not appear where the mesothelioma developed. This is usually a sign of metastasis, which is the spread of cancerous cells to other regions of the body. The most common metastatic symptoms of mesothelioma 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
    • Horner’s Syndrome – A conjunction of eye-related issues such as a drooping eyelid, constriction of pupils, decreased tear production and conjunctival redness

    Metastatic symptoms are a sign of advanced mesothelioma. At this point it is imperative to find a specialist to get the best treatment possible. Find a mesothelioma specialist for your specific diagnosis using our free Doctor Match program.