Peritoneal Effusion

Peritoneal effusion is a collection of fluid build up in the abdominal cavity.

It is also known as ascites and can be a symptom of rare peritoneal mesothelioma. There are a variety of treatments that can help control or relieve fluid build-up and other associated symptoms.

Causes Of Peritoneal Effusion

In the overwhelming majority of cases, peritoneal effusions are caused by cirrhosis of the liver and only about 10% of total cases are due to cancer.

While the condition itself is relatively common among patients who already have a diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma, cancer is a rare cause of the total number of peritoneal effusion cases.

A peritoneal effusion may develop from cancer cells moving into the lymph system and lymph tissues, blocking the flow of lymph fluid. It can also be a sign of aggressively growing tumors in the abdominal cavity that are producing an excess of fluid or can also result from liver processes related to cirrhosis.

Symptoms of Peritoneal Effusion

Since a peritoneal effusion is simply fluid build up in the peritoneal lining or the lining of the abdomen, there a wide variety of symptoms that can occur, such as:

  • Swelling or abdominal distention
  • Varying degrees of abdominal pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent chest pain
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue or persistent tiredness


When a patient goes to the doctor with severe distention of the abdomen, one of the first things that come to mind is ascites. To confirm the diagnosis, further testing is needed to verify that there is an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity.

Tools Used in the Diagnostic Process:

  • Ultrasounds
  • Physical examination
  • CT scans
  • Testing fluid obtained by draining the fluid of ascites

The quickest way to identify fluid in the abdomen is imaging scans. Usually, this is done with CT scans or ultrasonography.

If ascites presents with an unknown cause or is are new to the patient, your doctor will order a paracentesis to collect a sample after draining the fluid. At this point, the sample will be tested to see if there are signs of cancer.


Treatment of peritoneal effusion will vary depending on whether the patient has a malignant or nonmalignant form of the condition. Peritoneal effusion resulting from peritoneal mesothelioma can be a source of discomfort, but it is treatable. Options for treatment may include chemotherapy, cytoreductive surgery, or even placing a catheter to drain fluid as needed.

Is Your Peritoneal Effusion Caused By Mesothelioma

If you have a history of asbestos exposure, either in the course of your employment or military career, and have experienced peritoneal effusion, there is the chance that peritoneal mesothelioma may be at the root of the issue. 

While peritoneal mesothelioma is relatively rare, with under 1,000 new diagnoses in the US annually, it can often be misdiagnosed as other types of cancer or even passed off as minor gastrointestinal issues. Often there will not be any cancerous cells in the fluid, so additional testing will be needed to confirm.