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Mesothelioma patients will likely experience swelling, lethargy, and unexpected weight loss. If you have pleural mesothelioma, you can expect symptoms such as chest pain, short breath, cough, and other respiratory symptoms. Most people with mesothelioma experience symptoms for several months before getting a diagnosis.
Common Mesothelioma Symptoms
All mesothelioma types share some symptoms, while other cancer symptoms are specific to the location of the tumor.
For instance, fever and fatigue are symptoms peritoneal, pericardial, and pleural mesothelioma cancers all share. However, experiencing heart arrhythmias and palpitations is specific only to pericardial mesothelioma.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
Pleural mesothelioma early signs can look similar to other respiratory disorders such as the flu or pneumonia. Typical pleural signs of mesothelioma—which occurs on the soft tissue of the lungs — are:
When you identify and treat mesothelioma fast, you can benefit from increased life expectancy and quality of life. Keeping your symptoms in check plays a key role in properly treating lung mesothelioma.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
Peritoneal mesothelioma early symptoms can appear similar to digestion issues like irritable bowel syndrome, or even menstrual disorders such as fibroids. This is because peritoneal mesothelioma occurs on the soft tissue in the abdomen. Typical signs of peritoneal mesothelioma are:
Your doctor may prescribe chemotherapy medication such as cisplatin, gemcitabine, pemetrexed, and carboplatin to make your peritoneal mesothelioma tumor smaller and reduce cancer growth.
Some specialists now see remarkable results with HIPEC — hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy. If you watch out for your symptoms and find the best treatments, you may live longer and experience a better quality of life.
Pericardial Mesothelioma Signs
Pericardial mesothelioma’s early symptoms may look like heart disease signs. Typical signs of peritoneal mesothelioma are:
Shortness of breath
Pericardial mesothelioma occurs in the pericardium — the lining of the heart. Pericardial mesothelioma is a rare type of mesothelioma. Because the pericardium becomes thicker, pericardial mesothelioma makes it more challenging for the heart to beat effectively.
Testicular Mesothelioma Signs
Testicular mesothelioma early symptoms may appear like symptoms of injuries or illnesses like epididymitis that involve testicle inflammation. Typical testicular mesothelioma signs are:
The rarest type of mesothelioma is testicular mesothelioma, which accounts for 1% of all cases. It often appears as a lump in the testicles.
Early Mesothelioma Signs
Cough, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, and chest pain are among the first signs of malignant mesothelioma. More often than not, doctors don’t diagnose mesothelioma until symptoms are severe and patients have already entered later stages of this rare type of cancer.
When you know the first warning symptoms and signs, environmental conditions like asbestos exposure can aid you in confirming the diagnosis of mesothelioma. With an early diagnosis, you may qualify for life-extending medical procedures which aren’t available for patients who’re in later mesothelioma stages.
For example, in 2020 doctors discovered the extremely rare case of malignant mesothelioma, which was present as gastrointestinal polyps. Imaging scans and tests showed the polyps were pleural mesothelioma metastases .
How Do I Know Whether I Have Mesothelioma?
Biopsies are a sure-fire way of determining whether you have mesothelioma. However, doctors often notice the early mesothelioma signs by accident.
For instance, routine tests like blood tests or X-rays can detect something out of the ordinary. Since mesothelioma symptoms often look like symptoms of less severe diseases, they don’t provide enough information about the existence of cancer.
Alongside biopsies, doctors detect mesothelioma with CT scans, blood tests, and X-rays. In addition, scientists are working on innovative, cutting-edge tests like breath tests for confirming mesothelioma diagnosis.
If you believe you’re feeling any sign of mesothelioma, talk to your doctor and share all the details you can. The earlier, the better.
How Do Signs of Mesothelioma Contribute to Diagnoses?
Signs of mesothelioma are the main reason people decide to visit their doctor and check if they have cancer. The issue is that most mesothelioma symptoms often appear in later stages of cancer, usually 3rd and 4th. This means the majority of patients don’t visit their doctor until mesothelioma has developed to later, more irreversible stages.
If you experience environmental factors that may lead to mesothelioma, such as asbestos exposure, talk with your primary care physician and tell them about the risk. Ask if they’re recommending any cancer tests based on your personal health history and exposure conditions.
Discovering mesothelioma early lets you have better chances to qualify for aggressive cancer procedures that could help you survive.
Since mesothelioma doesn’t typically show symptoms until the later stages of the disease, it’s hard to discover the cancer in the 1st and 2nd stages based only on symptoms. But in some cases, stage 1 mesotheliomas may produce sufficient fluids in the lungs to make you develop shortness of breath or start coughing without the disease spreading.
Studies found stage 1 and 2 pleural mesothelioma patients who receive chemotherapy, radiation, or both, combined with less aggressive surgery live the longest after the diagnosis . The average survival is around 35 months or almost three years.
Types of mesothelioma cells, such as sarcomatoid and epithelial, don’t change the usual signs most patients with this type of cancer experience.
Mesothelioma Symptoms by Stage
Mesothelioma symptoms differ by stage of the disease, with patients experiencing more severe symptoms in later stages. The tumors’ size and how much they’ve spread help doctors classify mesothelioma stage, location, and symptoms.
Symptoms of Stage 1 and Stage 2 Mesothelioma
Symptoms of Stage 3 and Stage 4 Mesothelioma
Factors That Influence Symptoms of Mesothelioma
The key reason most individuals don’t experience mesothelioma symptoms is the small size of the tumor in the first stages of cancer.
Tumors of mesothelioma usually don’t become large enough to influence your body until the later stages, including stages 3 and 4.
Difficulty breathing: Occurs when tumors restrict full lung expansion.
Pain in the chest: Occurs when tumors spread into the chest nerves and walls.
Fluid in the lungs: This appears when tumors spread so much into the lymph nodes and lining of the chest that they prevent fluids from adequately draining from the pleural cavity. This restricts the lungs from expanding.
The more tumors grow, the more they press against each other and spread into nearby tissues and organs. Since the hidden mesothelioma compresses and compromises the organs and tissues, both start to malfunction, eventually leading to organ failure.
How Do People Cope With Signs of Mesothelioma?
Lots of cancer treatment centers these days offer palliative cancer care. Palliative cancer care can include occupational therapy, physical therapy, prescription drugs, and other treatments. These can improve your quality and duration of life, as well as help you keep the symptoms under control.
Signs of mesothelioma may occur due to cancer itself and as well as side effects of treating cancer. Cancer treatment side effects often disappear days or weeks after the treatment is done. However, signs of mesothelioma will progress as cancer advances, which is why managing your symptoms is key to improving your quality of life.
Speak with your oncologist about referring to palliative care. Palliative care specialists can help you manage symptoms better and improve your quality of life.
How to Manage Mesothelioma Symptoms
PleurX catheter: A PleurX silicone catheter helps you drain the fluids every two or three days at home.
Alternative Treatments: Complementary and supportive therapies such as mind-body therapies and acupuncture can help you manage the anxiety, pain, and nausea associated with mesothelioma.
Communication: Let your primary care physician know the intensity and frequency of your symptoms. This helps them suggest other treatments or procedures that could dramatically lower pain and issues.
Radiation Treatment: While radiation therapy can’t cure mesothelioma by itself, it can help with pressure and pain, as well as reduce tumor size.
Mesothelioma Specialists: Mesothelioma isn’t a common disease, so finding help from mesothelioma specialists may increase your access to high-tech treatments to increase survival and lower mesothelioma symptoms. Therapy plans can include participating in research trials or immunotherapy medication prescriptions. Although the success rate of immunotherapy procedures differs from patient to patient, the FDA has approved Opdivo, Yervoy, and Keytruda for treatment for malignant mesothelioma.
How to Find a Mesothelioma Specialist
If you have a history of asbestos exposure and believe your symptoms are indicative of mesothelioma, you should seek medical attention. Speak with your primary care physician about your past work regarding asbestos and tell them if there’s a chance of asbestos-related issues. Feel free to ask for a second opinion from another mesothelioma specialist to be sure.
Mesothelioma Signs FAQ
The most common questions about mesothelioma symptoms include how it is tested and whether doctors can misdiagnose mesothelioma.
What Symptoms Show You May Have Mesothelioma?
Most mesothelioma specialists agree that the most typical pleural mesothelioma signs are coughing, short breath, and pains in the chest. Regarding peritoneal mesothelioma, its symptoms are stomach swelling and pain, loss of appetite, and changes in bowel movements. Typical testicular mesothelioma symptoms include pain, lumps, and fluids in testicles.
How Do You Test for Mesothelioma If I Have Symptoms?
Doctors will usually test you for mesothelioma with radiological imaging, then confirm it with a biopsy. If you display mesothelioma signs, your doctor may order radiological exams like a CT scan or X-ray of your abdomen or chest.
Next, an oncologist or surgeon may perform a thoracoscopy or other diagnostic biopsies to confirm the mesothelioma diagnosis. Even though primarily experimental, mesothelioma blood tests may help with the diagnosis.
Can Doctors Misdiagnose Mesothelioma?
Doctors often misdiagnose mesothelioma since it is a rare and quite complex disease. It often takes mesothelioma specialists years of experience to properly diagnose mesothelioma, leading to lots of patients seeking second opinions on mesothelioma.
Oncologists and doctors may misdiagnose mesothelioma as less harmful issues or other cancers because the symptoms are similar.
What Should I Do if I Think I Have Mesothelioma?
If you believe you have mesothelioma, your best bet is to search for a qualified mesothelioma specialist. Such specialists usually have years of experience treating, diagnosing, and managing mesothelioma. They often come from fields of radiation, surgery, pathology, and oncology, together with specialized training for treating mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a rare disease often occurring due to asbestos exposure. Its early signs include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and pains in the chest, abdomen, or testicles. If you believe you’re experiencing symptoms of mesothelioma, seek immediate medical attention.
With the right specialist and treatments such as radiotherapy, you can increase the quality of your life and its duration even though you suffer from this terrible condition.
Alhumidi, Ahmed, and Abdulmalik Alqahtani. “Metastatic Pleural Mesothelioma Presenting Initially as Multiple Gastric and Colonic Polyps.” Journal of Surgical Case Reports, Oxford University Press, 31 July 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7394137/.
Seiki Hasegawa, et al. “Surgical Risk and Survival Associated With Less Invasive Surgery for Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma.” Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, American Association for Thoracic Surgery, July 2019, https://www.semthorcardiovascsurg.com/article/S1043-0679(18)30373-3/fulltext.
Kire Stojkovski is a practicing medical doctor whose work has been published in some of the most respected medical journals.
Daniel Boyer is a practicing Doctor of medicine with a passion for medical research. He specializes in molecular biology, histology, and pharmacology.