Mesothelioma Symptoms

Common mesothelioma symptoms include difficulty breathing, coughing, fevers, and pain in the affected area. These often mild and vague symptoms may be mistaken for other, less serious health issues. Since the only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure, those who were exposed to asbestos should learn their next steps if symptoms appear.

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What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Initial mesothelioma symptoms are typically mild but worsen as the cancer spreads.

Common symptoms of mesothelioma include:

  • Blood in stool
  • Bloody sputum
  • Breathing problems
  • Chronic cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid buildup in the affected area
  • Rib pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Upper back pain
  • Vomiting blood

Early mesothelioma symptoms are often mild, and most diagnoses are not made until after the cancer has spread. Additionally, these early symptoms may mimic symptoms of other, less common illnesses like pneumonia or the flu. The delay in diagnosis can worsen a patient’s health outlook (prognosis).

If you are experiencing these symptoms but have not yet been diagnosed with mesothelioma, the Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor and sharing with them your history of asbestos exposure.

Quick Facts About Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • Most mesothelioma symptoms do not appear until after the cancer has already spread, according to the Moffitt Cancer Center.
  • The American Cancer Society notes that most people with mesothelioma had symptoms for several months before being officially diagnosed.
  • Doctors can treat mesothelioma symptoms with surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and techniques designed to manage pain.

Causes of Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma symptoms are caused by the growth and spread of tumors throughout the body.

As these tumors grow, they push on major organs inside the body and cause harm.

Eventually, the tumors spread so far throughout the body that they invade other healthy organs and tissues. This can worsen the symptoms and cause the affected organs to shut down.

Mesothelioma Symptoms by Type

Mesothelioma symptoms vary depending on the location of the cancer (lining of the chest, abdomen, heart, or testicles). Learn more about the symptoms for each type.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

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

Early-stage pleural mesothelioma symptoms may include:

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

As pleural mesothelioma progresses, those affected may notice more serious and uncomfortable symptoms.

Late-stage pleural mesothelioma symptoms include:

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

The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are classified as early- or late-stage depending on how far the cancer has spread throughout the body.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the peritoneum, the protective lining of the abdomen.

Some possible peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • 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

As peritoneal mesothelioma tumors develop, they can cause a painful, bloated feeling in the abdomen.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pericardial mesothelioma forms in the pericardium, which is the protective lining of the heart.

Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms include:

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

Pericardial mesothelioma causes tightness and pressure on the muscles in the heart due to tissue inflammation and fluid buildup.

Testicular Mesothelioma Symptoms

Testicular mesothelioma occurs when cancerous tumors form on the tunica vaginalis, the lining of the testicles.

Symptoms of testicular mesothelioma include:

  • Masses on the testicles
  • Fluid buildup in the testicle lining
  • Swelling of the testicles

This form of mesothelioma typically causes discomfort or pain around the scrotum.

Mesothelioma Symptoms by Stage

Pleural mesothelioma — the most common type of this cancer — is broken into four different stages. With each mesothelioma stage, the cancer spreads farther throughout the body and symptoms typically worsen.

The other types of mesothelioma do not have official stages but are instead considered as “early” or “advanced” depending on how the tumors have spread and how severe the symptoms are.

Early Mesothelioma Symptoms

Early symptoms of mesothelioma can often be managed effectively if the victim receives mesothelioma treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, before the cancer spreads.

Early symptoms of mesothelioma include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Pain in the affected area
  • Weight loss

Sadly, most patients are not diagnosed in the early stages of mesothelioma.

Late-Stage Mesothelioma Symptoms

In the later stages of mesothelioma, the cancer has spread along the lining of the lung or throughout the body, worsening existing symptoms and causing new ones.

Late-stage mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid buildup in the affected areas
  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Increasing pain

By the later stages, it may not be possible for a victim to receive treatments to alleviate these symptoms.

Metastatic Mesothelioma Symptoms

Metastatic cancer has spread from its point of origin to distant sites throughout the body. Metastatic cancers are often considered to be in the fourth and most advanced stage, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Symptoms of metastatic mesothelioma may include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fever
  • Severe weight loss

Those with metastatic mesothelioma usually do not qualify for life-extending invasive treatments, but they may be able to receive medical procedures to manage symptoms.

Latency Period of Mesothelioma Symptoms

Most symptoms of mesothelioma typically appear 20-50 years after a person first inhales or ingests asbestos fibers.

Once inside the body, asbestos fibers may travel to other organs and irritate healthy cells and cannot be removed.

The healthy cells eventually mutate due to this irritation, causing mesothelioma tumors to form and symptoms to appear.

Mesothelioma Symptoms and Misdiagnosis

Mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed because the early symptoms are usually mild and are similar to those of more common conditions.

A mesothelioma misdiagnosis can have deadly consequences: the mesothelioma cancer is able to spread since the victim is receiving the incorrect treatment for another illness.

Doctors may misdiagnose mesothelioma because:

  • Symptoms are vague and inconsistent
  • They do not have the experience to identify mesothelioma based on symptoms alone
  • Victims are unaware of their asbestos exposure history or fail to report it to doctors

Since mesothelioma can develop in several different areas, it can be misdiagnosed as a number of unrelated conditions.

Pleural Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Since the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include a chronic cough and difficulty breathing, doctors may misdiagnose it as another more common issue that affects lung function.

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms may be mistaken for:

  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can already be present in those exposed to asbestos
  • Pneumonia

Sometimes, pleural mesothelioma may also be misdiagnosed as a benign tumor.

For example, doctors misdiagnosed a pleural mesothelioma tumor in a 65-year-old patient as noncancerous in 2016. Months later, the patient was fighting severe mesothelioma symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain, which led to a new diagnosis.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Since people with peritoneal mesothelioma may experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation loss, they could be misdiagnosed with a digestive problem or other types of cancer.

Peritoneal mesothelioma may be misdiagnosed as:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Ovarian cancer

In 2004, a 14-year-old was confirmed to have peritoneal mesothelioma after being misdiagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

Pericardial and Testicular Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Pericardial and testicular mesothelioma are the rarest forms of this cancer, with less than 500 reported cases in total. Because of this, the symptoms of these mesothelioma types may be mistaken for the symptoms of other health problems.

For example, fluid buildup and swelling of the testicular lining may be mistaken for an infection or scrotal inflammation. Additionally, pericardial mesothelioma may be mistaken for coronary artery disease or pericarditis (inflammation of the heart lining).

Managing Mesothelioma Symptoms

There is no cure for mesothelioma, but its symptoms can be reduced or managed through various medical treatments and therapies.

Medical Procedures

Some patients can undergo mesothelioma surgery to remove tumors if the cancer has not spread to other areas in the body.

Notable mesothelioma surgeries include:

  • Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP): Patients with pleural mesothelioma may qualify for an EPP, which removes the diseased lung, the pericardium, and parts of the pleura and diaphragm, easing symptoms associated with these areas.
  • Pleurectomy with Decortication (P/D): Another option for pleural mesothelioma patients is a P/D, which removes the pleura and cancerous tumors but spares the lung. If the cancer has spread to the chest wall or into lungs, tissue from these areas may be removed as well.
  • Cytoreduction with HIPEC: Peritoneal mesothelioma patients may undergo this procedure, which consists of abdominal surgery and heated chemotherapy immediately after.

Victims with late-stage mesothelioma typically cannot safely undergo these major surgeries. That said, palliative care options, which focus on easing symptoms,  may still be an option.

Palliative medical procedures for mesothelioma include:

  • Thoracentesis: This procedure drains the excess fluid that builds up between the pleura and the lungs by inserting a needle between the victim’s ribs. This can help relieve symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • Radiation therapy: Through radiation therapy, X-rays or gamma rays are used to shrink the mesothelioma tumors that are causing painful symptoms.
  • Clinical trials: Clinical trials study new types of treatments with the hopes of managing symptoms and finding a cure for this cancer. Doctors can help their patients determine if they may qualify for a clinical trial.

Other treatments may be available depending on the individual. Patients can learn what treatments may work best for them by seeking medical attention from a mesothelioma specialist.

Non-Medical Symptom Relief

Non-medical or natural therapies may also help ease mesothelioma symptoms if medical procedures are not an option for a patient.

Natural methods for relieving mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Acupuncture: Through acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into the body to relieve painful mesothelioma symptoms and stress. Acupuncture can also help ease symptoms that may develop after a mesothelioma surgery.
  • Breathing techniques: Mesothelioma patients who experience shortness of breath can work with physical therapists or nurses to learn pain-reducing breathing techniques.
  • Relaxation therapy: This form of therapy teaches patients how to tense and relax their muscles, which can give them a sense of calmness and help them breathe.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that patients seek out a doctor’s opinion to see if these alternative treatments may help ease their symptoms.

Further, curative treatments (like surgery) from a licensed medical practitioner should always be considered first, if possible. While non-medical treatments may ease symptoms, they are not a substitute for medical treatment from mesothelioma doctors and specialists.

When to See a Mesothelioma Specialist

If you have possible mesothelioma symptoms that do not improve after several months, you should seek out an opinion from a doctor specializing in mesothelioma.

Only experienced mesothelioma doctors can properly diagnose this rare cancer, which is essential to receiving the most effective treatments. These doctors understand how to properly diagnose, treat, and manage the symptoms of this cancer.

Mesothelioma Symptoms and Early Detection

Anyone experiencing possible mesothelioma symptoms should seek out medical care as soon as possible. Early detection of mesothelioma symptoms is critical to extending a patient’s life. The sooner the symptoms are noted, the faster mesothelioma can be properly diagnosed and treated.

Without treatment, mesothelioma can quickly spread throughout the body. In fact, most cases of mesothelioma are not diagnosed until the cancer is already in its advanced stages.

To learn more about the symptoms of mesothelioma — and how you can get medical help — get in touch with our team today.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Reviewed by:Mark Levin, MD

Certified Oncologist and Hematologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Mark Levin, MD has nearly 30 years of experience in academic and community hematology and oncology. In addition to serving as Chief or Director at four different teaching institutions throughout his life, he is also still a practicing clinician, has taught and designed formal education programs, and has authored numerous publications in various fields related to hematology and oncology.

Dr. Mark Levin is an independently paid medical reviewer.

Stephanie KiddWritten by:

Editor-in-Chief

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.

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