Common Mesothelioma Symptoms

The most common form of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma, mainly impacts the lungs.

The most common symptoms seen with pleural mesothelioma will include a constant shortness of breath, dry and unproductive cough, and chest pain. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common form of the disease and the symptoms often associated with this form of mesothelioma include abdominal pain, bloating or swelling, sudden bowel changes, loss of appetite, and unexplained or sudden weight loss.

Types Of Mesothelioma And Their Symptoms

There are some forms of mesothelioma that may present with common symptoms, while other symptoms or side effects may be unique to the location of the tumor or cancer growth.

Common To All Types Of Mesothelioma

  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Nausea

Symptoms Specific to Pleural Mesothelioma

  • Pleural effusion – A build up of fluid around the space in the chest that the lungs need to expand. This can also cause hoarseness and wheezing, difficulty swallowing, coughing up blood, and reduced chest expansion.
  • Shortness of breath – Can be caused by the pleural effusion or by other factors and is one of the most common symptoms of any mesothelioma type.
  • Chest pain 
  • Chronic dry or unproductive cough – Common in approximately one-third of patients.

Due to the long latency period of mesothelioma, these symptoms may not be noticed for some time.

Once they are noticed, the patient should seek diagnosis as soon as possible and speedy follow-up can help dramatically with outlook and prognosis.

Symptoms Specific to Peritoneal Mesothelioma

  • Abdominal pain
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Fluid build up in the abdomen
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bowel changes
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms Specific to Pericardial Mesothelioma

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart murmurs or palpitations

Symptoms Specific to Testicular Mesothelioma

  • Hydrocele or fluid buildup in the scrotum
  • Testicular pain
  • Testicular swelling
  • Lump in the scrotum

Initial Signs and Symptoms Of Mesothelioma

In the very first stages of mesothelioma, growth of tiny nodules on the tissues that line the lungs, abdomen, or heart develop.

Mesothelioma has a long latency period so the first symptoms may not show up for anywhere between 20 and 50 years after the initial exposure.

This gives the cancer a long time to become established in the tissues and to begin to spread.

The well-known symptoms of chest pain, sudden weight loss, and chronic fatigue do not often present themselves until the tumors start to press on other organs, nerves, or tissues, making themselves known through painfulness. Once the tumors have begun to impact their neighboring tissues, mesothelioma is now considered either stage 3 or stage 4.

Often mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose in stage 1 or stage 2 based on symptoms alone. There are some cases, however, where stage 1 or stage 2 mesothelioma results in enough pleural fluid around the lungs that shortness of breath occurs and can help in diagnosis. This can often result in mesothelioma being caught before it spreads.

How Can You Find Out If You Have Mesothelioma?

The only way to know for sure is to have a biopsy, or in some cases several biopsies done, to confirm that the cells in the tumor are cancerous. Some doctors may notice other early signs of mesothelioma purely by accident. Occasionally, a routine test, like an x-ray for a broken rib, can reveal the physical signs of mesothelioma or a blood test done for some other routine purpose may show the markers for cancer. In most cases, because early symptoms resemble much less serious and much more common diseases, they are not good indicators of cancer and are often overlooked.

One of the ways to help your doctor understand and interpret your test results more accurately, is to let them know if you have a history of exposure to asbestos either directly or indirectly.

This can help them screen you for cancer earlier, allowing detection sooner. Earlier detection means more effective treatment and much better chances for those treatments to significantly extend your life beyond most mesothelioma estimates.

Symptoms Of Mesothelioma Stage By Stage

Stage 1 or Stage 2

  • Dry and persistent cough
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulties in breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pleural effusion, as this worsens so will the pain and the breathing issues

Stage 3 or Stage 4

  • Increasing pain
  • Persistent pain
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden loss of appetite
  • Increasing respiratory complications
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bowel changes
  • Constipation

Main Cause Of Late Stage Mesothelioma Symptoms

Often, early symptoms are not a strong indicator of cancer because tumors are simply not large enough to have had an impact on nearby organs and systems. Once mesothelioma advances to stage 3 and stage 4, these tumors are large enough to begin pressing on other parts of the body.

  • Chest pain often exacerbated due to the spread of tumors into the chest wall and nearby nerves.
  • Breathing difficulty increases because the tumors are prohibiting the full expansion of the lungs. This also contributes to the shortness of breath and other respiratory issues.
  • Pleural effusion causes significant fluid build up around the lungs and the heart, as tumors spread quickly through pleural lining and lymph tissues. The fluid stops the lungs from fully expanding.

Tips For Managing Mesothelioma Symptoms

Utilizing these tips, in addition to following your care team’s direction on treatment, can help you manage your symptoms more effectively.

  • Nutrition is important for mesothelioma patients. The right diet can help you retain more energy and recover quicker after treatments.
  • Alternative therapies may help you reach a more balanced mind and body relationship. Explore alternative treatments like acupuncture to help manage pain and nausea.
  • A pleural catheter can allow the patient to drain their own pleural fluid every few days at home, lessening reliance on hospital visits. A small silicone catheter facilitates this.