Uncommon Mesothelioma Symptoms All Veterans Should Know About

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It’s important to learn about the common symptoms of mesothelioma, but veterans should also be aware of uncommon signs of the disease. These rare mesothelioma warning signs may help you avoid a misdiagnosis.

When mesothelioma is caught early, treatment outcomes improve significantly. Unfortunately, people often receive a late-stage diagnosis because mesothelioma shares many of its symptoms with other health issues. Most mesothelioma symptoms—such as chest pain, shortness of breath and weight loss—are general and vague, so the disease is often mistaken for other conditions.

The common symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to those of diseases like appendicitis, asthma, cystic fibrosis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These health issues are far more common than mesothelioma. For example, chest pain is a common symptom of several other heart and lung issues. There are only a few symptoms that are unique to mesothelioma.

People who have been exposed to asbestos in the past—even decades ago—should be aware of common mesothelioma symptoms. This is especially important for people who served in the military, as an estimated one-third of mesothelioma victims are veterans.

3 Unexpected Mesothelioma Warning Signs

Mesothelioma symptoms differ depending on cancer location, cell type and stage. In addition to common signs, there are a few uncommon warning signs of mesothelioma that veterans need to know. Many people are unaware that these symptoms can indicate cancer.

If you’ve been exposed to asbestos in the past, take some time to learn about the following mesothelioma warning signs that many veterans may not be aware of.

1. Shoulder Pain

Muscle injuries or inflammation cause most cases of shoulder pain. However, shoulder pain is sometimes a symptom of lung cancer or mesothelioma. In a 2015 study, 14% of pleural mesothelioma patients experienced shoulder pain as their very first symptom. The researchers suggest that shoulder pain may be a rare early-warning sign of pleural mesothelioma.

Pleural mesothelioma is cancer of the lung lining (pleura). A buildup of pressure in the pleura puts a strain on the chest cavity, causing discomfort in other areas of the body like the shoulder. This does not necessarily mean that cancer has spread.

Cancer-related shoulder pain tends to be mild. However, some people with mesothelioma experience decreased shoulder mobility as well.

2. Horner’s Syndrome

Horner’s syndrome typically results in a droopy eyelid and decreased pupil size on one side of the face. This is caused by injury to the nerve pathway between the brain and the face.

Most often, Horner’s syndrome is caused by a tumor, spinal cord injury or stroke. Pleural mesothelioma can also cause Horner’s syndrome in rare circumstances. This occurs when a tumor in the lung lining spreads to other sites in the body and obstructs the nerves running between the brain and face. This is more likely to occur in advanced stages of mesothelioma.

Horner’s syndrome produces the following symptoms on one side of the face:

  • Drooping eyelid
  • Smaller pupil size
  • Delayed dilatation of the pupil in response to dim light
  • Elevation of the lower lid
  • Eye appearing sunken
  • Little or no facial sweating

3. Night Sweats

Most people don’t know that night sweats are a common sign of many cancers. Night sweats may be an early indication of adrenal tumors, leukemia, bone cancer, liver cancer or mesothelioma.

There are several reasons why these different forms of cancer cause night sweats. With mesothelioma, night sweats are caused by the body’s immune response to the presence of cancer cells. The body often tries to fight cancer in the same way it responds to the common flu—by increasing body temperature and causing a fever.

Excessive sweating can occur at any time during the day, not just at night. Since night sweats come on suddenly and pass quickly, most people don’t think that they’re cause for concern. People who have been exposed to asbestos should know that night sweats and fevers may be warning signs of mesothelioma.

Getting Screened for Mesothelioma

While it’s crucial to look out for the common signs of mesothelioma, veterans should be aware of rare signs as well. An uncommon symptom like shoulder pain may be the very first sign that something is wrong.

Getting screened for mesothelioma is extremely important. Whether you have typical or rare symptoms, see a specialist to receive an accurate diagnosis. Mesothelioma is a complex and rare form of cancer, so most general practitioners do not have experience diagnosing or treating it. An experienced doctor will correctly diagnose you and set you on the right treatment path.


Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

View Sources

“The link between lung cancer and shoulder pain" Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/316346.php/. Accessed on May 9, 2019.

“Shoulder ring complaints as a rare first symptom of malignant pleural mesothelioma.” Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25724794. Accessed on May 9, 2019.

“Horner syndrome” Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/horner-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20373547. Accessed on May 9, 2019.

“Does cancer cause night sweats?” Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314008.php. Accessed on May 9, 2019.

“Horner's syndrome in a patient with diffuse malignant pleural mesothelioma.” Nihon Kokyuki Gakkai Zasshi. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10390966. Accessed on May 9, 2019.