Mesothelioma symptoms can vary greatly, making them difficult to diagnose.
Symptoms may take 10 – 50 years to emerge after exposure to asbestos.
Recognizing symptoms is vital for earlier detection and improving prognosis.
The symptoms will vary based on type, staging and other factors.
As a rare disease, not many people know how to recognize the symptoms of mesothelioma cancer. However, as such an aggressive cancer, it’s important to understand and recognize early symptoms of malignant mesothelioma for diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
Mesothelioma symptoms will vary based on the type of mesothelioma that a patient has, and will also vary based on the individual, especially if there are differences in age, overall health and stage at diagnosis, among other factors. However, there are common symptoms that can help lead patients and physicians towards the right diagnostic tools to test and accurately diagnose the cancer.
Mesothelioma Symptoms by Type
Malignant pleural mesothelioma (lungs), peritoneal mesothelioma (abdomen), pericardial mesothelioma (heart) and testicular mesothelioma (testes) often exhibit different symptoms as they affect different areas of the body. By understanding and identifying exactly what the patient is experiencing, mesothelioma specialists can better identify what testing should be done, where it should be done and what treatments will most help the patient.
Common Symptoms by Mesothelioma Type
- Lower back or chest pain
- Persistent coughing
- Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Fluid buildup around the lungs (pleural effusion)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Fluid buildup (peritoneal effusion)
- Bowel obstruction
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Weakness and loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Irregular heartbeat or heart murmurs
- Fluid buildup (pericardial effusion)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Pain in the testes or groin
- Excess fluid in the scrotum
- Inflammation of the epididymis
- Lump or mass in the testicles
- Cyst in the epididymis
Again, these are just common symptoms that may not appear for every patient. Some patients are even asymptomatic, with mesothelioma being found accidentally. Aside from malignant mesothelioma cases, benign mesothelioma symptoms can also manifest differently, as with rare cell types.
Mesothelioma Symptoms by Stage
During the early stages of mesothelioma, there is minimal to no spreading, so patients may not identify any symptoms or they may be minimal. Stage 1 mesothelioma patients may notice coughing or chest/abdominal discomfort, and by stage 2 they may see shortness of breath and chest pain. Early symptoms of malignant mesothelioma often mimic those of other conditions, such as lung cancer or pneumonia, which can lead to a misdiagnosis, preventing physicians from pinpointing the cancer during these early stages.
Stage 3 and stage 4, however, means the cancer has metastasized, or spread to nearby organs and potentially the lymph nodes, likely causing stronger symptoms. Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of mesothelioma and has the worst life expectancy. At this point palliative care or clinical trials may be the only options available for treatment. Signs that the disease has spread to the later stages may include:
- Coughing up blood
- Horner’s syndrome
- Nerve issues in the face or limbs
- Paralysis of the vocal box (hoarseness)
- Severe weight loss or anorexia
- Fever and night sweats
Other Factors Impacting Mesothelioma Symptoms
Aside from type and stage, there are other factors that may influence the number and degree of symptoms that a patient experiences, including:
- Duration of exposure: Certain occupations may have exposed individuals to asbestos for a longer period of time, causing early emergence of symptoms.
- Amount of exposure: Individuals working with or exposed to larger quantities of asbestos may also experience symptoms faster than others.
- Age: Elderly patients diagnosed with mesothelioma may be weaker than those of younger ages, making them more susceptible to aggressive symptoms.
- Overall health: For patients that have other underlying conditions or poor health, symptoms may be worse than those in better health.
Addressing Symptoms of Mesothelioma
If any symptoms of mesothelioma are suspected, it’s vital to seek medical attention right away. Early detection is crucial to ensure patients get the best treatment and prognosis possible. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, taking 10 – 50 years for symptoms to emerge after asbestos exposure, making it even more important that they are addressed before the cancer can progress any further.
Once seeking medical advice, patients will likely undergo a variety of diagnostic tests, including imaging studies, such as chest X-rays, CT scans, or PET-CT scans to locate tumors. If indicated by these imaging studies and in consultation with your doctor, biopsies will help diagnose whether or not a patient has cancer, while also helping determine type and stage. With the right diagnosis, mesothelioma specialists can offer patients the best treatment plan, for both attacking the cancer and helping ease or eliminate symptoms to ensure the best quality of life possible.