Mesothelioma is a serious form of cancer with only one known cause: asbestos exposure. With 3,000 new cases each year in the United States, mesothelioma is rare but aggressive. Most patients have a short lifespan, especially in its later stages. But over the past decade, massive advancements in treatment technology have allowed many mesothelioma patients to survive for years longer than their original prognosis.

Mesothelioma Overview

If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, here are the most important things to know about your diagnosis:

  • Forms in the linings of the chest, heart, abdomen or testicles (rare)
  • Directly caused by ingesting or inhaling asbestos fibers
  • Symptoms lay dormant for decades before developing
  • Once active, mesothelioma progresses aggressively and quickly spreads to distant sites
  • Can only be treated effectively by mesothelioma specialists located at cancer centers around the country
  • Aggressive combination treatments of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are the best options for slowing the cancer’s progress and extending life expectancy
  • Learn more about this condition in our FREE Mesothelioma Justice Guide

If you have a history of asbestos exposure and you suspect you may have mesothelioma, it’s important to consult a mesothelioma doctor immediately. This rare disease can only be diagnosed accurately by a specialist.

Symptoms of mesothelioma often range from slight chest pain to feeling like you can’t breathe or swallow. Many patients often mistake their mesothelioma symptoms for other conditions like bronchitis, pneumonia or gastrointestinal problems.

How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma

The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos—a natural mineral mined from the ground. Asbestos is composed of tiny, tinsel-like fibers that make the material extremely durable yet pliable. Asbestos fibers are fine, indestructible shards that, when formed together, create a product that can withstand any level of heat, chemical or water exposure.

From the 1920s until the late 1980s, asbestos was widely used as a natural insulator and fire-resistant industrial material in a range of construction and manufacturing capacities. By as early as the 1930s, claims of asbestos-related health risks had come to the surface. 

Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief

Manufacturers were advised of the dangers that asbestos exposure had on workers, including its link to cancer. However, companies continued to mine, process and distribute asbestos regardless. These companies put their profits ahead of people and knowingly put thousands of workers at risk of asbestos-related diseases.

When disturbed, asbestos fibers become airborne. Workers using asbestos are put at great risk of ingesting or inhaling the fibers. The fibers can also settle on nearby surfaces, from clothing and machinery to food and water sources.

Because asbestos fibers are microscopic, workers don’t know when they’re released into the air, so anyone nearby can unknowingly breathe them in or ingest them.

How Asbestos Exposure Leads to Mesothelioma

Fibers can be breathed in through the nose or mouth. Once inhaled, asbestos makes its way down the trachea and into the lungs, or down the esophagus and into the stomach.

These indestructible slivers eventually settle themselves deep into the tissue linings that surround 3 main body parts:

  • Abdomen (peritoneum)
  • Chest (pleura)
  • Heart (pericardium)

Over time, the fibers cause constant and repetitive irritation to the lung, heart or abdominal tissues. With enough irritation, scarring results. In some cases, this scarring may trigger tissue cells to mutate and turn into mesothelioma cancer cells. By nature, cancer cells grow and divide to form tumors (clumps of cancerous tissue). They can quickly and eventually overtake healthy cells.

Cancer’s destructive nature results in damage to the affected organs, which prevents them from functioning properly. When mesothelioma continues to spread unchecked, it will become fatal.

Mesothelioma is just one of the many different types of asbestos-related diseases.

Other asbestos-related diseases and conditions include:

However, mesothelioma is the most difficult to treat because of its aggressive nature. Mesothelioma specialists use personalized treatment strategies to target, remove or shrink mesothelioma tumors with the goal of controlling its spread and extending life.

Get Your Free Mesothelioma Justice Guide & Get Access To:

  • Treatment Options
  • Mesothelioma Doctors
  • Veterans Benefits

Learn More

What Are the Different Mesothelioma Types?

Mesothelioma forms in the mesothelium—the protective lining that covers organs in the chest and abdomen. Because it affects different areas of the body, mesothelioma is described as having different locations, or types.

Here are the ways doctors classify mesothelioma:

  • Location: Lungs (pleural), abdomen (peritoneal) or heart (pericardial)
  • Cell type: Epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic (a mixture of both)
  • Stage: Stages I to IV — an official staging system for pleural mesothelioma only
  • Localized vs. Metastatic: Localized mesothelioma remains contained to the original site, while metastatic mesothelioma has spread to distant sites throughout the body, such as the lymph nodes (the body’s filtration system)

An accurate mesothelioma diagnosis can only be given by a specialist. An example of a complete mesothelioma diagnosis could be stage 2 epithelioid pleural mesothelioma, meaning that cancer with the epithelioid cell type has formed in the pleura (lung lining) and is relatively contained to the chest cavity.

See more information on pleural mesothelioma stages.

Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief

An estimated 2 out of every 3 mesothelioma cases are pleural, with the remaining cases being peritoneal. Pericardial mesothelioma is extremely rare, accounting for less than 1% of all mesothelioma cases.

As for cell types, epithelioid is the most common. It’s also deemed the easiest to treat compared to sarcomatoid cell type, which is rare but the most aggressive.

When a mesothelioma tumor contains both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells, it’s called a biphasic tumor. The ratio between epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells in a tumor determines how quickly it spreads.

What Are Common Mesothelioma Symptoms?

Anyone with a history of asbestos exposure should be aware of the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma. It’s important to know that you could have been exposed to asbestos decades ago and only just started to show symptoms recently. The disease can lie dormant for 10-50 years before symptoms appear.

Mesothelioma symptoms vary by disease location and stage. As with most conditions, mesothelioma symptoms also vary for each person based on factors like age, sex and overall health.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pleural mesothelioma affects the protective lining that covers the chest cavity and lungs. Because of where the disease forms, the main symptoms of pleural mesothelioma mostly affect the respiratory system. As mesothelioma tumors grow within the lung linings, the tissue expands and causes pressure and swelling.

Here are some of the symptoms that result from pleural mesothelioma:

  • Tightness in the chest
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • A dry cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fluid buildup in the chest
  • Constriction of the throat and upper chest
  • Weight loss

In the initial stages of pleural mesothelioma, patients may experience flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever and body aches and pains.

Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief

Vague mesothelioma signs can be easily overlooked or ignored. These signs, combined with respiratory symptoms can result in misdiagnoses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis or even the common cold.

As pleural mesothelioma progresses into stages 3 or 4, symptoms become much more severe and harder to manage. Many people report chronic chest pains, persistent and painful coughing and sometimes coughing up blood.

If you have a history of asbestos exposure and you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, make an appointment with a mesothelioma specialist today.

Access Asbestos Trust Funds

Compensation for treatment, loss of income and other damages is available through Asbestos Trust Funds. Patients with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses may qualify.

Find Out If You Qualify

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

When mesothelioma forms in the abdominal lining (peritoneum), it causes a variety of stomach and digestion symptoms.

Mesothelioma tumors in the peritoneum cause pressure and swelling in the abdomen, which lead to many of the following peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms and signs:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen
  • Bloating and swelling
  • Feeling full
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting

Peritoneal mesothelioma also causes symptoms that are similar to pleural mesothelioma symptoms. These include chronic fatigue, night sweats and fever.

There is no official staging system for peritoneal mesothelioma like there is with pleural, so the timeline of symptoms varies from patient to patient.

Changes in bowel habits are common in peritoneal mesothelioma patients. As such, it’s easy to confuse it with digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms and have a history of asbestos exposure, contact a mesothelioma specialist today.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

In less than 1% of cases, mesothelioma forms in the heart lining (pericardium). Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms mimic pleural mesothelioma symptoms due to the heart’s proximity to the lungs.

Pericardial tumors cause swelling and pressure in the heart, which creates extremely dangerous complications. Because pericardial mesothelioma is so rare, there isn’t a set of common or progressive signs like there are for the other types.

However, here are some of the possible symptoms you may develop with pericardial mesothelioma:

  • Chest pain
  • Persistent cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath when lying down
  • Heart palpitations (arrhythmia)
  • Heart murmurs

As tumors develop in the heart lining, the pericardial lining starts to thicken. Pericardial thickening causes further inflammation and strain, resulting in symptoms like irregular heartbeat and murmurs. As with the other forms of mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma also causes fatigue, fever and night sweats.

Doctors can perform X-rays and imaging scans to identify possible pericardial tumors that may be causing heart problems.

If you are experiencing any of these pericardial mesothelioma symptoms and you have a history of asbestos exposure, contact a mesothelioma specialist today.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Mesothelioma?

Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is essential to receiving the right type of treatment that can possibly extend your life.

Only a mesothelioma specialist can conclusively diagnose mesothelioma by its location, cell type and stage. Doctors diagnose mesothelioma by following a specific set of diagnostic steps.

The diagnostic steps are:

  1. Review Symptoms and History: Patients who exhibit symptoms of mesothelioma will undergo a physical examination. Doctors will look at signs and symptoms and ask about their duration. During the exam, patients should discuss any history of asbestos exposure to determine risk factors for mesothelioma.
  2. Examine Imaging Scans: If patients display signs and symptoms that indicate mesothelioma, doctors will then order imaging scans. X-rays, CT scans and MRIs allow doctors to look inside the patient for masses of tissue resembling tumors.
  3. Order a Biopsy: If imaging scans reveal tumor masses, then doctors will order a biopsy. Tissue samples removed during a biopsy get examined under a microscope by a pathologist—a doctor who looks for the presence of mesothelioma cancer cells. A biopsy can conclusively tell doctors whether a patient has mesothelioma or not.

All patients should seek a second or third opinion on their condition outside a general oncologist. It’s possible for mesothelioma patients to receive a misdiagnosis when a general oncologist confuses their condition with a type of lung or abdominal cancer.

Avoid putting yourself at risk of a misdiagnosis. Contact a mesothelioma specialist to get an accurate diagnosis so you can begin receiving life-extending treatments immediately.

Free Mesothelioma Justice Guide

Mesothelioma is a complex disease. If you’ve been diagnosed, the Mesothelioma Justice Guide will help you understand your treatment options and how to improve your prognosis.

Claim Your Mesothelioma Justice Guide Now

How Do Doctors Treat Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma specialists put together personalized treatment plans for each patient based on their specific diagnosis.

Doctors take into consideration the location of the mesothelioma, the cell type of the tumors, as well as the rate at which the cancer is spreading. These factors and more help specialists determine the most effective way to approach treatment.

Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief

Doctors frequently prescribe a multimodal approach to treatment, meaning they administer multiple treatments in a specific order. Treatment plans are tailored to patients and their specific diagnosis.

Depending on the case, doctors may recommend an initial radiation treatment to shrink tumors before surgically removing them. Doctors may also operate to remove the tumor first and then administer radiation or chemotherapy.

Treatment approaches depend on what doctors feel will give the patient the best chance at life extension.

The 3 primary types of mesothelioma treatments include:

  1. Surgery: Most often recommended for early-stage mesothelioma patients, surgery involves removing the tumor as well as surrounding tissue and organs—either partially or fully—to stop and control the disease from spreading. Different surgical procedures exist for different types of mesothelioma.
  2. Chemotherapy: Doctors treat mesothelioma patients using chemotherapy. During chemotherapy, anti-cancer drugs circulate throughout the body, killing off mesothelioma cells to prevent them from spreading to distant sites.
  3. Radiation: To shrink tumors, doctors use high-energy beams aimed directly at the mesothelioma tumor site. The rays target mesothelioma cells by interfering with their DNA and preventing them from multiplying and spreading.

When chemotherapy or radiation are given BEFORE surgery, it’s called neoadjuvant treatment. When chemotherapy or radiation are given AFTER surgery, it’s called adjuvant treatment.

Legal Compensation for Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma patients are victims of asbestos exposure by negligent manufacturers and distributors.

Mesothelioma patients developed this rare cancer by unknowingly exposing themselves to dangerous conditions at their work, homes or schools. Many employers knew of the severe health risks involved in asbestos use, yet concealed the truth and put their workers’ lives in danger.

If you have developed mesothelioma as a result of workplace asbestos exposure, then you may be entitled to legal compensation.

Asbestos trust funds have been established to provide money to victims of asbestos exposure. By contacting a mesothelioma lawyer, you can obtain the compensation that you deserve to help cover your treatment costs and other incidental expenses and damages associated with your condition.

To learn more about compensation for your mesothelioma diagnosis, contact our Justice Support Team today. Call us at (888) 360-4215 or request a FREE Mesothelioma Justice Guide to better understand your legal compensation options.

View Author and Sources
  1. National Cancer Institute, “Malignant Mesothelioma—Patient Version” Retrieved from: Accessed on November 25, 2017.
  2. Cancer Research UK, “Risks and causes.” Retrieved from: Accessed on November 25, 2017.
  3. American Cancer Society, “Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: Accessed on November 25, 2017.
  4. Cancer Research UK, “Tests to diagnose.” Retrieved from: Accessed on November 25, 2017.
  5. Baylor College of Medicine, "Mesothelioma Facts". Retrieved from: Accessed on June 8, 2018.

Last modified: January 17, 2019