Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
The most common symptoms of malignant pleural mesothelioma are dry cough or wheezing, shortness of breath (dyspnea), and other respiratory problems.
“Most patients […] will have a cough or pain or decrease[d] exercise, and they’ll be treated by their physicians for, potentially, common cold.”
– Dr. R. Taylor Ripley, Mesothelioma Specialist
Other, more severe symptoms of mesothelioma can develop depending upon the stage of the disease. Pleural mesothelioma has four stages.
Early-Stage Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
Stage 1 mesothelioma and stage 2 mesothelioma are considered the early stages of the cancer. In these stages of mesothelioma, the cancer cells have not spread far from their original site of development through the lymph nodes or the bloodstream.
Common early-stage symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
In the early stages of pleural mesothelioma (stages 1 and 2), symptoms can be nonexistent or mild. Many patients don’t recognize these early symptoms as signs of cancer.
Late-Stage Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
Late-stage mesothelioma is usually defined as stage 3 mesothelioma and stage 4 mesothelioma. Many symptoms of pleural mesothelioma first appear during these stages. Stage 4 is also known as the final stage or end-stage.
Common late-stage symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Face or arm swelling
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
As malignant mesothelioma tumors grow, they press against the lungs and other areas around the chest. This can cause chest pain, tiredness, and a cough that will not go away. It can also result in significant fluid buildup around the lungs, called pleural effusions.
Pleural effusions restrict a patient’s ability to fully expand their lungs and get a deep breath. This fluid buildup in the chest requires removal through draining.
A 2007 study from the Department of Interventional Pulmonology at Harvard Medical School examined 185 patients who underwent surgery to drain fluid from their lungs.
Did you know?
An average of 1.67 liters of fluid was drained from the lungs of each patient — almost as much as a 2-liter bottle of soda.
Whether a patient has early- or late-stage mesothelioma, a proper diagnosis gives them the best shot at improving their prognosis and quality of life.
Diagnosing Pleural Mesothelioma
Doctors first perform imaging scans to understand a pleural mesothelioma patient’s symptoms and what may be causing them.
Patients may be prescribed:
- Computed tomography (CT) scans
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scans
From there, an experienced doctor must perform a tissue biopsy or a fine needle biopsy to make a clear mesothelioma diagnosis.
Pleural Mesothelioma Treatments for Symptom Relief
Pleural mesothelioma treatments, designed to relieve symptoms and extend a patient’s life, may take the form of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other methods.
Pleural Mesothelioma Curative Treatments
Curative treatments are medical procedures that doctors perform with the goal of helping a patient live longer. Some curative treatments may also relieve symptoms, but that is not their primary goal.
Common curative treatments for this type of mesothelioma include:
Doctors perform curative treatments to remove as many of the tumors as possible — from the lungs or other areas in the body.
Pleural Mesothelioma Palliative Treatments
Palliative treatments are designed to reduce symptoms of mesothelioma and help patients live more comfortably.
Palliative treatments for pleural mesothelioma may include:
- Pleurodesis: This procedure involves removing extra fluid from the lung lining and sealing the lining to prevent more fluid buildup.
- PleurX catheter: This small silicone catheter is inserted into regions where fluids buildup and drains them. This allows patients to drain any buildup of fluid from the comfort of their home every couple of days.
- Radiation: Through radiation therapy, X-rays or gamma rays are used to shrink the mesothelioma tumors that are causing pain in the chest.
- Thoracentesis: This procedure drains the excess fluid that builds up between the pleura and the lungs, helping relieve symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath.
Both curative and palliative treatments for pleural mesothelioma may be available through clinical trials.