Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma symptoms are usually difficult to detect, and can easily be confused with other conditions. These factors, combined with the long latency period of mesothelioma, mean it is often misdiagnosed. That’s why knowing more about the early signs of mesothelioma can help you get the right treatments sooner.

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Mesothelioma Symptoms Overview

Because mesothelioma is so rare, it often gets misdiagnosed for other more common conditions or cancers. However, knowing about your history of asbestos exposure can help doctors identify mesothelioma sooner.

Here is what everyone with a history of asbestos exposure should know about mesothelioma symptoms:

  • It takes 20-50 years for mesothelioma symptoms to develop after initial asbestos exposure
  • Mesothelioma symptoms can occur in the lungs, abdomen or heart
  • Early mesothelioma symptoms can include difficulty breathing and chest or abdominal pain
  • Fluid buildup in the chest (pleural effusions) or abdomen (ascites) are a mesothelioma warning sign
  • Doctors can treat mesothelioma symptoms with palliative surgeries, chemotherapy, and other medications to manage pain

Mesothelioma Symptoms Latency Period

Mesothelioma is not only a rare cancer, but it’s also very unique in how it develops.

It can take between 20-50 years after asbestos exposure for patients to be diagnosed with mesothelioma.

When a person inhales or ingests asbestos fibers, the fibers become lodged deep within the mesothelium (protective linings) of the lungs (pleura), abdomen (peritoneum) or heart (pericardium).

Asbestos particles sit dormant for decades before they begin to irritate the healthy mesothelial tissues. With enough irritation and inflammation, asbestos fibers can trigger genetic mutations to surrounding cells, which then begin to grow and divide at abnormal rates.

As mesothelioma cells divide, they clump together to form masses of cancerous tissue called tumors. As tumors grow, they can cause pressure in the chest or abdomen and trigger fluid buildup. This process is what causes the common mesothelioma symptoms that patients initially report.

What Are Mesothelioma Symptoms?

Mesothelioma symptoms vary based on many factors. Because mesothelioma can form in different locations throughout the body, symptoms will be different based on where the mesothelioma first develops. The most common mesothelioma location is in the pleura (lung), followed by the peritoneum (abdomen) and the pericardium (heart).

In general, mesothelioma patients may experience common symptoms across all forms of the disease.

Symptoms such as fever, night sweats, fatigue, and weight loss are all common to any type of cancer as the body reacts and fights against abnormal cells.

Below are the common symptoms patients experience based on mesothelioma location.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pleural mesothelioma forms within the protective tissue lining that covers the lungs and chest, called the pleura.

In a healthy state, the pleura allows for the expansion and contraction of the chest as the lungs breathe in and out. When the pleura becomes diseased from mesothelioma tumors, it constricts the chest and makes breathing difficult.

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Many patients don’t experience significant symptoms in the earliest stage of mesothelioma. It sometimes takes patients six months to notice any significant increase in symptoms that could prompt them to see a doctor.

Some of the possible early-stage pleural mesothelioma symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Fluid buildup in the chest
  • Weight loss

As mesothelioma progresses to the later stages, patients may notice more serious symptoms such as:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Chronic fever and excessive sweating
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Increased difficulty breathing
  • Pain in the ribcage and spine
  • Severe weight loss, malnutrition, and loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath when lying down

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Peritoneal mesothelioma first develops in the peritoneum, which is the protective lining that covers the abdominal organs. The peritoneum allows for movement of stomach and bowels. As tumors develop, they affect the peritoneum and its ability to expand, causing a painful, bloated feeling.

It’s possible for patients not to notice any initial symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma, which makes it difficult to detect in the early stages. But as the tumors metastasize (spread to distant sites), peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms may worsen.

Some possible peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating and swelling in the stomach
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Diarrhea and constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and excessive sweating
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Malnutrition and loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pericardial mesothelioma is rare. It first forms in the pericardium, which is the protective lining of the heart. When tumors develop in the pericardium, they cause tightness and constriction of the heart muscle due to tissue inflammation. As a result, patients will exhibit heart-related symptoms that can cause severe pain and discomfort.

Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms are very difficult to identify at first. But as the mesothelioma metastasizes, it can cause severe symptoms that can cause heart failure.

Because pericardial mesothelioma is so rare, there isn’t a lot known about it.

However, patients have reported the following pericardial mesothelioma symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fluid buildup in the heart
  • Irregular heartbeats and heart murmurs
  • Pericardial thickening
  • Tightness in the chest

Mesothelioma Symptoms and Misdiagnosis

Early symptoms of mesothelioma can easily be mistaken for other conditions and patients are often misdiagnosed at first.

There are a few reasons doctors may initially misdiagnose mesothelioma symptoms, including:

  • Symptoms are vague and inconsistent
  • Symptoms mimic other more common conditions
  • Mesothelioma is rare, and most doctors do not have the experience to identify it based off symptoms alone
  • Many people forget about their history of asbestos exposure, or forget to report it to their doctors

Doctors may assume that mesothelioma symptoms are actually the result of much more common conditions that have the same primary signs.

With pleural mesothelioma symptoms like pleural effusions, cough and difficulty breathing, doctors may mistake mesothelioma for pneumonia, bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms can mimic irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a common and non-life-threatening disorder. Additionally, pericardial mesothelioma is frequently mistaken for coronary artery disease or pericarditis (pericardial inflammation).

Detecting Early Mesothelioma Symptoms

Early-detection of mesothelioma symptoms is critical to extending a patient’s life. With increased awareness about the dangers of asbestos and its known link to fatal diseases, many patients are now reporting their asbestos exposure history to their doctors.

Reporting your history of asbestos exposure to your doctor can help with the mesothelioma screening process, even if you aren’t sure you have symptoms. Doctors can ask you about your work history and possible symptoms you may be experiencing.

More importantly, if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, and you have a known history of using asbestos products or working at job sites with asbestos, then contact your doctor immediately.

If you’re unsure of how you may have been exposed to asbestos, call the Mesothelioma Justice Network at (888) 360-4215 to discuss your work history. Based on our experience, we may be able to determine possible exposure locations.

You can also visit our resources on:

It’s important for all patients with mesothelioma symptoms to get a referral to a mesothelioma specialist. Only specialists can properly diagnose mesothelioma, which is essential to receiving the most effective treatments.

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Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: July 3, 2019

View 4 Sources
  1. American Cancer Society, “Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html. Accessed on January 2, 2018.
  2. Winston W Tan, MD, FACP, “Mesothelioma Clinical Presentation.” Retrieved from Medscape. Accessed on January 2, 2018.
  3. Wissam Bleibel, “Peritoneal Cancer: Practice Essentials” Retrieved from: Medscape. Accessed On January 2, 2018.
  4. Heart, “Primary pericardial mesothelioma presenting as pericardial constriction: a case report.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1767997/. Accessed on January 2, 2018.
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