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, give it a poor prognosis. That’s why knowing more about the early signs of mesothelioma can help you get the right treatments sooner.

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 10-50 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 Symptom Latency Period

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

It can take between 10 and 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 tumors—masses of cancerous tissue. 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), which is extremely rare.

In general, though 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 malignancy (cancer) as the body reacts and fights against abnormal cells.

MJN Brief

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

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

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

Many patients don’t experience significant symptoms in the earliest stage of mesothelioma. It sometimes takes patients 6 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
  • Fluid buildup in the chest (pleural effusions)
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

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

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

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Peritoneal mesothelioma first develops in the peritoneum—the protective lining that covers the abdominal organs. Like the pleura, the peritoneum also allows for expansion and movement but for the 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
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Diarrhea and constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition and loss of appetite
  • Fever and excessive sweating
  • Fatigue

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pericardial mesothelioma is rare. It first forms in the pericardium—the protective lining of the heart. When tumors develop in the pericardium, they cause a 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
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeats and heart murmurs
  • Pericardial thickening
  • Fluid buildup in the heart (pericardial effusions)

Mesothelioma Symptoms and Misdiagnosis

Early symptoms of mesothelioma can easily be mistaken for other conditions and patients often receive an initial misdiagnosis.

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. And pericardial mesothelioma is frequently mistaken for coronary artery disease or pericarditis (pericardial inflammation).

Detecting Early Mesothelioma Symptoms

Early-detection of mesothelioma symptoms is critical in extending a patient’s life. With increased awareness about the dangers of asbestos and it being the cause of such a fatal disease, 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, 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.

For more information on mesothelioma symptoms and seeing a specialist, contact The Mesothelioma Justice Network today.

View Author and Sources
  1. American Cancer Society, “Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: 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: Accessed on January 2, 2018.

Last modified: April 2, 2018