Mesothelioma Symptoms

Expert Fact Checked

This page was medically reviewed by James Stevenson, M.D. on February 22, 2019. For information on our content creation and review process read our editorial guidelines. If you notice an error or have comments or questions on our content please contact us.

James Stevenson, M.D. Thoracic Medical Oncologist

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Symptoms of mesothelioma are often misdiagnosed as more common conditions. Mesothelioma symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or abdominal pain and fluid buildup. Pleural mesothelioma symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath. Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include abdominal pain and bloating. Asbestos-exposure symptoms take years to develop, challenging early detection.

01. First Signs of Mesothelioma

What Are the First Signs of Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma symptoms can take 10 – 50 years to develop after asbestos exposure. Signs of mesothelioma may vary based on tumor location and disease stage. However, there are common signs of the disease.

What Are the Most Common Mesothelioma Symptoms?

  • 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

Early signs of mesothelioma are particularly difficult to detect, as they are mild. Individuals typically ignore symptoms or attribute them to more common conditions. Studies have shown early warning signs of chest or abdominal pain and fluid buildup. Fluid buildup is referred to as pleural effusion or peritoneal effusion, depending on cancer location. Fluid buildup often presents as swelling or bloating.

During the later stages of mesothelioma, tumor growth leads to worsening symptoms. Late-stage warning signs commonly include pain, loss of appetite, unexpected weight loss and fatigue.

02. Symptoms by Type

Common Symptoms by Mesothelioma Type

Each type of mesothelioma develops in a different area of the body. As a result, symptoms may vary across types. Mesothelioma types are based on tumor origin.

Identifying location-specific mesothelioma symptoms can help doctors make an accurate diagnosis. The location of symptoms often determines where to conduct imaging scans and biopsies. For example, trouble breathing may necessitate a chest X-ray.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Malignant pleural mesothelioma develops in the linings of the lungs (pleura). Symptoms often manifest in the thoracic cavity (chest) and cause respiratory problems.

Common Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • Chest pain
  • Persistent dry cough or wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pleural effusion
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Body aches
  • Blood clotting disorders

Pleural mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia or lung cancer.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). Most symptoms present in the abdominal region. There are multiple organs within the abdominal cavity, so peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms may vary based on tumor location.

Common Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • Abdominal bloating (distention)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Peritoneal effusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Anemia
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Hernias

Peritoneal mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the lining of the heart (pericardium). Symptoms typically present in the chest cavity. Due to the aggressive nature of pericardial mesothelioma, symptoms typically progress quickly.

Common Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • Chest pain
  • Pericardial effusion
  • Heart murmur
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Fever and night sweats

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

Testicular Mesothelioma Symptoms

Testicular mesothelioma develops in the linings of the testes (tunica vaginalis testis). Though cases are limited, commonly reported symptoms include pain and swelling in the testicles.

Common Testicular Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • Fluid buildup
  • Swelling around the scrotum (hydrocele)
  • Testicular pain
  • Inflammation of the epididymis (epididymitis)
  • Lump or mass in the scrotum

Testicular mesothelioma is extremely rare and often misdiagnosed as a hernia.

03. Symptoms by Stage

Mesothelioma Symptoms by Stage

Symptoms of mesothelioma differ based on stage. Patients with stage 1 or stage 2 mesothelioma usually experience milder symptoms than those with stage 3 or stage 4 mesothelioma.

What Are Symptoms of Early- and Late-Stage Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma symptoms are often grouped into early- or late-stage categories because there is overlap between the four levels of disease progression. In other words, many symptoms are the same for stage 1 and stage 2, and many are the same for stage 3 and stage 4.

Early-Stage Mesothelioma Symptoms
  • Abdominal pain or chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fluid buildup
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
Late-Stage Mesothelioma Symptoms
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fatigue and body aches
  • Severe or worsened pain
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite

Symptoms are usually more aggressive during the late stages because the cancer has spread, or metastasized, to other organs and lymph nodes.

Factors Influencing Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Timing and severity of mesothelioma symptoms vary from case to case. However, studies have revealed several factors that can influence mesothelioma symptoms.

  • Duration of asbestos exposure: Long-term asbestos exposure may cause symptoms to emerge sooner.
  • Amount of asbestos exposure: High levels of asbestos exposure may cause symptoms to emerge sooner.
  • Type of asbestos: Exposure to crocidolite, one of the most dangerous types of asbestos, may cause symptoms to emerge sooner.
  • Cancer cell type: Aggressive mesothelioma cell types may increase the severity of early symptoms. Epithelioid mesothelioma symptoms are typically less severe than sarcomatoid mesothelioma symptoms.
  • Metastasis: Aggressive spreading to multiple vital organs may increase the severity of early mesothelioma symptoms.

Mesothelioma specialists can typically provide patients with a general understanding of what symptoms they may expect at the time of diagnosis. Patients should share all symptoms and symptom progression with their physician to ensure they receive the proper treatment and care.

04. Symptoms and Diagnosis

How Mesothelioma Symptoms Aid Diagnosis

Doctors often start the diagnostic process by analyzing patient symptoms. Patients should seek medical care immediately if they recognize common symptoms of mesothelioma. Individuals with a history of asbestos exposure should notify their doctor and maintain yearly checkups.

If doctors are aware of previous exposure, they can proactively look for asbestos disease symptoms to facilitate early diagnosis. Early detection often allows patients to undergo aggressive treatment options, which may improve mesothelioma prognosis.

How Physicians Address Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • Review the patient’s medical history
  • Conduct a thorough physical examination
  • Order blood tests to identify risk factors and rule out other conditions
  • Perform imaging scans on areas where symptoms present
  • Conduct a biopsy to determine malignancy

Patients must receive an accurate diagnosis to determine the best treatment plan. Treatment plans will address disease progression, as well as the management of symptoms.

05. Treating Symptoms

Treating Mesothelioma Symptoms

Once patients receive an accurate diagnosis, they can work with their medical care team to establish a treatment plan. In addition to treating the disease, treatment plans also help patients manage their symptoms.

Mesothelioma treatments may be referred to as curative or palliative. Curative treatments aim to remove as much of the cancer as possible, while palliative treatments aim to reduce symptoms. In some cases, a single treatment can offer curative and palliative benefits.

How Do Curative Treatments Reduce Symptoms?

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are three of the most common mesothelioma treatments. Oftentimes, these treatments remove or shrink cancerous tumors and tissues, alleviating 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 reduce pressure on organs throughout the abdomen, improving abdominal pain, bowel obstruction and bloating.

How Does Draining Fluid Reduce Symptoms?

Pleural effusion and peritoneal effusion are two of the most common mesothelioma symptoms. Fluid buildup puts pressure on vital organs, causing an array of symptoms. Draining fluid can offer relief to patients.

Common Palliative Surgeries Used to Drain Excess Fluid

Doctors may also suggest a catheter to control fluid buildup. For pleural mesothelioma, a catheter is placed in the chest, and for peritoneal mesothelioma, a catheter is placed in the abdomen. This allows physicians or patients to continuously drain fluid, alleviating associated symptoms.

The PleurX™ catheter system is an increasingly popular at-home option for reducing pleural effusion and improving related symptoms.

Can Alternative Treatments Improve Symptoms?

Many patients find success with alternative treatments and reducing symptoms. Alternative treatments may include acupuncture, touch therapy, light therapy, massage therapy, physical therapy and pain medication.

Patients should discuss potential alternative treatments with their medical care team. Mesothelioma specialists have extensive knowledge regarding successful case studies, emerging treatments and the latest mesothelioma research.