An effusion is a severe symptom of mesothelioma and if not treated, can lead to death. As with all types of mesothelioma, symptoms result from the unintentional and prolonged exposure to asbestos. Presentation of asbestos disease is often a precursor to mesothelioma.
With mesothelioma, effusion is a common symptom that can inhibit the normal function of the affected organ. In some cases, the presentation of an effusion signals advancement of the disease or malignant mesothelioma. In addition, an effusion may be a result of a secondary condition like pneumonia or other lung diseases.
The mesothelium is the protective linings surrounding different body cavities. The pleura are the lining around the lung region, peritoneum surrounds the abdominal cavity and the pericardium surrounds the heart sac.
For mesothelioma patients, an effusion is common and can affect the pleura or pericardium. Fluid collects in the lining between the lungs and chest cavity with a pleural effusion. In a pericardium effusion, fluid collects in the protective sac surrounding the heart. Normally, a small amount of lubricating fluid is found in the pericardium.
If an effusion is present, the collection and retention of fluid inhibits the function of the organ. With pleural effusion – exudate pleural effusion – extreme pressure on the lungs prevents normal breathing and can cause wheezing or shortness of breath. Exudate pleural effusion is caused by inflammation of the lung from a tumor growth. Sometimes a transudate pleural effusion occurs with mesothelioma when fluid leaks from distressed blood vessels. Often, mesothelioma cancers present symptoms of both transudate and exudate pleural effusion.
The risk of a pleural effusion includes collapsing of the lung or atelectasis. The lung is unable to fully expand, inhibiting breathing. Collection of fluid in the pleura can also lead to pneumonia or other lung disorders, and can present along with pleural mesothelioma.
A pericardial effusion, a common symptom of pericardial mesothelioma, is the collection of fluid in the surrounding sac of the heart, and is caused by inflammation or disease. Putting additional stress and pressure inhibits the proper function of the heart, leading to decreased blood and oxygen circulation. If the pericardial effusion is severe, it can lead to heart failure.
When fluid collects in the peritoneum – the lining around the abdominal cavity – it is a symptom of advanced peritoneal mesothelioma. Within the abdomen, the parietal peritoneum is the outer layer and visceral peritoneum is the inner layer. Parietal peritoneum lines the abdominal cavity, and visceral peritoneum surrounds the organs. Like the pericardium, there is a small amount of fluid normally found between the parietal and visceral peritoneum. As with other forms of mesothelioma, when the peritoneum becomes inflamed due to cancer or cancerous growths, an effusion can occur.
Symptoms of effusion include shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pain, fatigue or rapid heartbeat. Some individuals experience a drowning sensation with a pleural effusion. Chemotherapy treatment for mesothelioma can relieve an effusion. However, in some cases, if the effusion is severe, the effusion may be drained.
Effusion is a serious symptom that may further exacerbate other symptoms of mesothelioma cancers. If an individual presents classic signs of an effusion, seek immediate medical attention.
MedicineNet, Inc. Definition of Effusion. Accessed on November 8, 2010.
The Mayo Clinic. Pericardial Effusion. Accessed on November 9, 2010.
The Merck Manual. Accessed on November 9, 2010.