Mesothelioma Symptoms

Expert Fact Checked

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Francis Perry Wilson, M.D. Medical Reviewer

Common mesothelioma symptoms include chest and abdominal pain, coughing and fluid buildup. Tumor location and size can impact symptoms. Mesothelioma commonly develops in the lining around the lungs (pleura) or the abdominal lining (peritoneum). Treatment may improve symptoms and quality of life.

01. Mesothelioma Symptoms by Type

Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Patients with mesothelioma often experience unexplained weight loss, fatigue and loss of appetite. However, each patient will have their own unique experience and possible symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of mesothelioma include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Fluid buildup
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

Symptoms can vary based on several factors, including type of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma types are based on where the cancer originates. Patients may experience different symptoms based on the cancer location. For example, trouble breathing might be associated with pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining around the lungs.

Symptoms may also vary based on mesothelioma stage. Early-stage mesothelioma symptoms may be mild and go unnoticed. Identifying symptoms early may help obtain a timely mesothelioma diagnosis. Mesothelioma is prone to late diagnosis, in part because of vague symptoms and a long latency period. For this reason, it is important for patients to seek medical care as soon as symptoms can be identified. Early diagnosis can positively affect prognosis and treatment options.

Common Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma

Malignant pleural mesothelioma develops in the pleura, or linings around the lungs. Symptoms can often manifest as respiratory problems. Patients may experience different symptoms and severity as the disease progresses.

Common pleural mesothelioma symptoms include:

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms may be mistaken for those of the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia or lung cancer.

Common Symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal cavity. Most symptoms appear in the abdominal region. There are multiple organs within the abdomen. So symptoms can vary depending which organs are near the tumor. Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms may also vary as the disease progresses into other nearby organs and tissues.

Common peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Abdominal distension (increasing size of the belly)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Ascites / peritoneal effusion
  • Feeling full early
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Pain (any form)
  • Weight loss (may be substantial)

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms may be mistaken for those of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease.

Common Symptoms of Pericardial Mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the pericardium, the lining around the heart. It is one of the rarest types of mesothelioma, accounting for less than 1% of diagnoses. Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms typically affect the chest region. Symptoms may appear to progress quickly because this form of mesothelioma is often diagnosed in late stages.

Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms may include:

  • Cardiac tamponade (pressure on the heart from fluid buildup)
  • Chest pain
  • Dry cough
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Fatigue
  • Pericardial effusion
  • Pericardial thickening
  • Right shoulder pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the legs or lower extremities

Pericardial mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as coronary artery disease, heart failure or other heart-related cancers.

Common Symptoms of Testicular Mesothelioma

Testicular mesothelioma develops in the linings around the testes, called the tunica vaginalis testis. This type of mesothelioma is extremely rare, accounting for less than 1% of mesothelioma diagnoses.

Symptoms of testicular mesothelioma may mimic other testicular conditions.

Common testicular mesothelioma symptoms can include:

  • Enlargement of the scrotum (scrotal swelling)
  • Hydrocele (fluid in the lining around the testicle)
  • Inguinal mass (mimicking inguinal hernia)
  • Solid scrotal mass (paratesticular mass)
  • Spermatocele (fluid filled sac in the epididymis)

Testicular mesothelioma symptoms may be mistaken for those of a hernia.

02. Early Signs of Mesothelioma

What Are the Early Signs of Mesothelioma?

First signs of mesothelioma may include difficulty breathing, pain, fever, fluid buildup or unexplained weight loss. These early signs are often mild, so they may go untreated or undetected. Patients may also ignore symptoms or attribute them to more common conditions.

Mesothelioma symptoms can take 10 – 50 years to develop after asbestos exposure. Signs of mesothelioma may vary based on tumor location and disease stage.

Early stages of mesothelioma often have mild or no symptoms. During the later stages, tumor growth can lead to new or worsening symptoms. Patients with a known history of asbestos exposure should discuss any changes to their body with their doctor. This may help with an early diagnosis.

What Factors Influence Mesothelioma Symptoms?

Mesothelioma symptoms vary from patient to patient. However, research has revealed several factors that can influence mesothelioma symptoms.

  • Asbestos exposure: High levels of long-term asbestos exposure may cause symptoms to emerge sooner than infrequent, low-level exposure.
  • Metastasis: Spreading to other tissues and organs may increase symptom severity or bring about new symptoms.

Mesothelioma specialists can help prepare patients for what symptoms they may expect. Patients should share all symptoms and symptom changes with their doctors to receive the best treatment and care.

03. Mesothelioma Symptoms by Stage

Common Symptoms by Mesothelioma Stage

Symptoms of mesothelioma may differ based on stage. Patients with stage 1 or stage 2 mesothelioma may experience milder symptoms than those with stage 3 or stage 4 mesothelioma. In general, stages 1 and 2 can be categorized as early-stage mesothelioma and stages 3 and 4 as later stages.

As mesothelioma progresses, new symptoms may emerge. Patients should be sure to record new and worsening symptoms to discuss with their mesothelioma doctor.

Early-Stage Mesothelioma Signs and Symptoms

In the early stages of mesothelioma, stage 1 and stage 2, symptoms may be milder. Early signs of mesothelioma can include fluid buildup, cough and pain where the tumors develop.

Early-Stage Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain or chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fluid buildup
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath

It is not uncommon for early mesothelioma signs and symptoms to go unnoticed. This is why it is important for individuals with known asbestos exposure to be aware of any changes in their bodies.

Identifying early warning signs of mesothelioma can help lead to an early diagnosis and improved prognosis.

Late-Stage Mesothelioma Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms may be more severe during the later stages of mesothelioma, stage 3 and stage 4.

Late-Stage Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain or chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid buildup
  • Persistent cough
  • Severe or worsened pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss

This is because the cancer has spread in these stages, or metastasized, to other organs and lymph nodes. For example, pleural mesothelioma may spread to the pleura on the other side of the chest.

In peritoneal mesothelioma, cancer cells may spread to organs in the abdominal cavity. This may lead to symptoms like loss of appetite if the digestive system is impacted.

Some mesothelioma patients may not seek care until their symptoms have worsened. But a diagnosis is still helpful, no matter the stage. Doctors can recommend appropriate treatments and help ease patients’ pain or discomfort.

04. How Symptoms Aid Diagnosis

How Do Symptoms Help With Mesothelioma Diagnosis?

Symptoms are often the reason patients seek a doctor’s help in the first place. So, doctors may start the diagnostic process by analyzing these symptoms. Early symptoms of mesothelioma can be mild or similar to those of common illnesses.

The diagnostic process may include a number of different tests or techniques, such as physical examinations, imaging scans like chest X-rays and blood tests. These are all done to rule out other conditions and determine which areas of the body are being affected. If symptoms and early tests suggest mesothelioma, a doctor can perform a biopsy to definitively diagnose mesothelioma.

It is important for people with a history of asbestos exposure to notify their doctor when they notice symptoms. Maintaining regular check-ups may be especially helpful for patients with risk factors for asbestos diseases.

If doctors are aware of previous exposure, they can proactively look for asbestos disease symptoms to facilitate early diagnosis. Early detection can allow patients to undergo aggressive treatment options like surgery, which may improve mesothelioma prognosis. Once a patient has a diagnosis, their doctor and care team can determine which treatments to pursue.

05. Treating & Managing Symptoms

Treating Malignant Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma treatment plans seek to address disease progression and provide symptom management.

Each patient’s treatment plan is unique to their case. Mesothelioma doctors review the patient’s medical history, diagnosis details and overall health to help determine which treatments may have the best results. These may include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation treatment.

Mesothelioma treatments may be referred to as therapeutic or palliative. Therapeutic treatments seek to extend patient life expectancy. They often aim to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Therapeutic treatments may solve the root cause of symptoms, providing relief.

Palliative treatments seek to address symptoms, increase patient comfort and improve quality of life. One study found palliative cancer care can extend life expectancy by up to 6 months.

In some cases, a single treatment can offer both therapeutic and palliative benefits.

Why Is Symptom Management Important?

Treatment of mesothelioma symptoms can be as important as treating the cancer itself. Symptom management can make life more comfortable for patients, improve quality of life and even extend survival time.

Patients at any stage of mesothelioma can benefit from palliative care. One study found patients who received only pleurodesis survived about 6 months longer than those who didn’t.

Palliative care can include treatment options to help ease breathing difficulties, reduce cough, reduce pain and improve energy. Managing these and other symptoms can help patients feel empowered, participate in things they enjoy, improve mental health and boost day-to-day quality of life.

Therapeutic Treatments for Mesothelioma Symptoms

Therapeutic treatments are used to improve patient prognosis.

Surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy are some of the most common therapeutic treatments.

  • Surgery: Surgery can fully or partially remove cancerous tumors and affected lymph nodes. Pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) is a common pleural mesothelioma surgery. It removes the cancerous lung lining and other tumors. But it does not fully remove the affected lung.
  • Chemotherapy: Drugs are administered to attack fast-growing mesothelioma cancer cells. For example, heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) is a specific chemo treatment where a chemotherapy wash is administered directly to the abdominal cavity.
  • Radiation: Targeted energy is used to kill malignant cells and prevent cancer from spreading. Radiation is seldom used alone to treat mesothelioma but may be combined with other treatments.
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment uses the patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells. For example, checkpoint inhibitors can help a patient’s immune system find, fight and kill cancer cells.

Mesothelioma surgery is often paired with other therapies. Combining multiple treatments is known as multimodal therapy. Multimodal treatments include two or more different cancer treatments and can be customized for each patient.

These treatments can remove or shrink cancerous tumors and tissues, which may help alleviate related symptoms. For example, chemotherapy may shrink a pleural mesothelioma tumor. This can reduce pressure on the lungs, improving cough, difficulty breathing and chest pain. Surgery may remove a peritoneal mesothelioma tumor. This can decrease pressure on organs throughout the abdomen, which can ease abdominal pain and reduce bloating.

Palliative Treatments for Mesothelioma Symptoms

Palliative care can be part of treatment for every stage of cancer. These therapies focus on easing symptoms and improving patient comfort and quality of life.

Some of the most common palliative treatments for mesothelioma are draining procedures to reduce effusions, or fluid buildup. This buildup puts pressure on nearby organs, which can cause discomfort and other symptoms. Draining this fluid can improve quality of life and ease symptoms.

Some common types of surgery to drain excess fluid include:

Pleurodesis is also an option for preventing future fluid buildup. Pleurodesis is not a cure but can help manage and alleviate symptoms.

Doctors may also suggest a catheter to control fluid buildup. This may allow for continuous draining, which can alleviate associated symptoms.

Alternative Treatments for Mesothelioma Symptoms

Patients may find success with alternative treatments to manage symptoms. Alternative treatments may include things like acupuncture, yoga, massage therapy, physical therapy and nutrition management.

A good diet can help improve mesothelioma patients’ overall health, which may improve eligibility for more aggressive treatments. A nutrition plan may also help patients manage symptoms and side effects such as fatigue, weight loss and loss of muscle mass.

Patients should discuss potential alternative treatments with their medical care team. Mesothelioma specialists have unique knowledge about emerging treatments and the latest mesothelioma research. These cutting-edge treatments may be available through clinical trials at cancer centers.

Cost of Treating Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma treatment can be costly. Treatment costs vary depending on diagnosis, treatment type, location, insurance and other factors. In addition to the cost of diagnostic tests and treatment, patients may also have expenses related to traveling for treatment.

Different types of treatments often have different costs. For example, the average hospital cost for pleural cavity draining is $16,089. The average hospital cost for a pleurectomy is $53,993. Patients may also encounter unexpected costs connected to mesothelioma treatment.

While the expenses of mesothelioma treatment can seem overwhelming, there are options to help manage these expenses. Insurance, legal compensation, charities, government assistance and disability benefits can all help reduce the financial burden of treatment.

06. Common Questions

Common Questions About Mesothelioma Symptoms

What are the early warning signs of mesothelioma?

Early warning signs of mesothelioma cancer include difficulty breathing, pain, fever, fluid buildup or unexplained weight loss. These symptoms may start mild and become more severe as the cancer progresses. Identifying these mesothelioma signs early on may help patients receive an early diagnosis.

Can mesothelioma cancer cause fever?

Running a fever may be a sign of many forms of cancer, including malignant mesothelioma. But fevers can also signal less serious conditions like a cold or stomach bug. Patients with risk factors for asbestos diseases should mention them to their doctors. This can help identify the true cause of vague symptoms, including a fever.

How long do symptoms of mesothelioma take to develop?

It can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years for mesothelioma symptoms to develop after exposure to asbestos. The average latency period across all ages, genders and types of mesothelioma is around 30 years.

How do you know if you have mesothelioma?

The first step to a mesothelioma diagnosis is speaking with a doctor or mesothelioma specialist. Depending on individual factors, like symptoms and a potential history of asbestos exposure, diagnostic tests may be performed. Doctors must test a biopsy tissue sample to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. Only a positive biopsy test result can tell you if you have mesothelioma.