Mesothelioma Symptoms

Quick Summary

Mesothelioma signs and symptoms can vary depending on the location of the cancer. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include difficulty breathing, chest pain, and coughing. Peritoneal mesothelioma signs include bloating, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. Medical care can help you manage mesothelioma symptoms.

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What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Malignant Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma has many symptoms that vary depending on the location, stage, and cell type of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma symptoms usually appear 10-50 years after asbestos exposure (the only known cause of this cancer). Anyone who inhales or swallows asbestos fibers may develop mesothelioma and suffer from the cancer’s symptoms later in life.

Common symptoms of malignant mesothelioma include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood clots
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing or dry cough

Sadly, U.S. military veterans who served between the 1930s and early 1980s are at a higher risk of mesothelioma. The military heavily relied on asbestos during this time as manufacturers hid the risks.

Thankfully, medical care from mesothelioma specialists or through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System can help patients ease symptoms and live longer.

Get a free veterans packet to learn how you can manage malignant mesothelioma symptoms.

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  • Treatment Options
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First Warning Signs and Symptoms of Malignant Mesothelioma

The first signs of mesothelioma vary depending on where the cancer develops.

The earliest warning signs of pleural mesothelioma (which forms in the lung’s lining) include shortness of breath and a dry cough. Bloating (swelling of the stomach) is often the first symptom reported by patients with peritoneal mesothelioma (which forms in the abdomen lining).

If you were ever exposed to asbestos or had family members who worked with asbestos products, you could be at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis.

It’s crucial to act quickly if you observe any unusual symptoms, and get them checked out by a local oncologist or mesothelioma specialist. The earlier you are diagnosed, the better chance you have of catching it before it spreads.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pleural mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs (pleura). Patients diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma experience respiratory-related symptoms.

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough or wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fluid buildup in the lung lining (pleural effusion)
  • Lumps beneath chest wall
  • Rib pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shoulder pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Upper back pain

“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. Taylor Ripley, Mesothelioma Specialist, Baylor College of Medicine

Pleural mesothelioma is the only form of mesothelioma that is categorized into four stages based on how far it has spread.

Early-stage pleural mesothelioma patients have minor symptoms, and some may not experience any symptoms at all. In the later stages, more severe symptoms (such as coughing up blood) often occur.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms vs. Lung Cancer Symptoms

Many people mistakenly think pleural mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer, but it actually develops in the delicate lining surrounding the lungs and not the lungs themselves.

The symptoms of malignant mesothelioma do have some similarities to lung cancer, though. Shared symptoms of mesothelioma and lung cancer include a cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, and weight loss, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Symptoms unique to lung cancer include bone pain and a headache.

Do you or a loved one have symptoms of mesothelioma? Chat now with our trusted advocates to learn about next steps.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). Symptoms typically affect the stomach and/or abdominal area.

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Constipation
  • Fluid buildup in abdomen (ascites)
  • Lumps of tissue beneath the skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Shortness of breath

The most commonly reported symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are abdominal bloating (distension) and pain, which occur in nearly half of all patients.

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms worsen as the cancer spreads, at which point more symptoms may also appear.

Symptoms of severe peritoneal mesothelioma include:

  • A constant feeling of fullness
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pericardial mesothelioma is very rare and forms in the heart’s lining (pericardium), causing symptoms that mainly affect the heart and chest.

Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma include:

  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Fluid buildup around heart lining
  • Heart murmurs
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weight loss

Most of these symptoms emerge when fluids press on the heart, or as tumors spread through the body.

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Testicular Mesothelioma Symptoms

Testicular mesothelioma is the rarest form of this cancer and develops in the lining of the testicles (tunica vaginalis).

Symptoms of testicular mesothelioma can include:

  • A buildup of strange masses near the testicles
  • Fluid buildup in the scrotum (hydrocele)
  • Swelling of the testicles

Testicular mesothelioma symptoms and signs may not appear until tumors have spread.

Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma by Stage

There are four stages of malignant pleural mesothelioma. In later stages, the cancer has spread through the body, and the symptoms are more obvious.

An older man has a checkup with a male doctor.

Pleural mesothelioma is the only type of mesothelioma that is classified by stage. The other types are categorized as localized or advanced based on cancer spread.

Early-Stage Mesothelioma Symptoms

In cases of early-stage mesothelioma (stage 1 and stage 2), symptoms can be nonexistent or mild.

Early-stage pleural mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

Unfortunately, many patients don’t recognize these early symptoms as signs of cancer.

Late-Stage Mesothelioma Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma typically become noticeable in the cancer’s later stages (stage 3 and stage 4). The cancer has spread through the lymph nodes to distant parts of the body by this point.

Late-stage pleural mesothelioma signs include:

  • Anemia
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Fever
  • Hoarseness
  • Night sweats
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Swelling of the face or arms

Diagnosing Mesothelioma Symptoms

A proper cancer diagnosis is key to relieving malignant mesothelioma symptoms. By getting correctly diagnosed, you can seek out medical treatments that give you the best chance of longer survival with less symptoms.

Did you know?

Mesothelioma symptoms are often vague, so they could be misdiagnosed as more common illnesses like the flu or pneumonia at first. Thus, doctors must perform a series of tests when making a mesothelioma diagnosis to rule out other illnesses.

Doctors diagnose mesothelioma by performing imaging scans that look inside a patient’s body for abnormalities that may be causing the symptoms.

Imaging scans used to diagnose mesothelioma include:

  • Chest X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans

If a suspected cancerous tumor or mass is discovered, a doctor must perform a biopsy. A biopsy includes the removal of a small tissue or fluid sample to see if cancer cells are present. Biopsies are the only way to officially confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.

A delayed or incorrect diagnosis can allow the cancer to spread and worsen. It’s critical to get all the required tests done quickly — and even seek out a second opinion from another doctor — to avoid a misdiagnosis.

Our veterans advocates can answer questions you have about mesothelioma symptoms and how they’re diagnosed. Chat with us now.

Treatment to Manage Mesothelioma Symptoms

After confirming a diagnosis, doctors will recommend a mesothelioma treatment plan to help patients manage symptoms and live longer.

Life-Extending Treatments

Doctors perform life-extending treatments to remove all visible cancer tumors and ease symptoms of mesothelioma. Common life-extending treatments for mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy.

Further, mesothelioma patients can seek out clinical trials to access new treatments that may ease symptoms.

Amy Fair
Amy FairRegistered Nurse
20+ years helping mesothelioma patients

“Going back 20 years ago, I can’t tell you how many oncologists were like, “What is mesothelioma.” Now, sad to say, a lot of the oncologists, almost all of them get it. They know how to treat it.”

Our team can help you access top treatments for your mesothelioma symptoms. Call (877) 450-8973 to get started.

Palliative Care Options

Palliative (pain-relieving) treatments are typically recommended for late-stage patients with severe mesothelioma symptoms. Palliative care can ease mesothelioma symptoms when life-extending treatment isn’t possible.

Learn about palliative treatments by mesothelioma type below.

Symptom-Relieving Pleural Mesothelioma Treatments

  • Pleurodesis: Doctors remove extra fluid from the lung lining, and then seal it to prevent more fluid buildup and pain.
  • PleurX Catheter: A small catheter is inserted into the lung lining to drain fluid buildup at home. It is helpful for patients with pleural effusions that keep coming back despite other treatments.
  • Thoracentesis: Excess fluid in the lung lining is drained with a needle to relieve symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath.

Symptom-Relieving Peritoneal Mesothelioma Treatments

  • Catheters: Doctors can place a catheter in a patient’s abdomen to treat recurring fluid buildup. In some cases, a PleurX catheter can even be used to treat peritoneal mesothelioma patients.
  • Paracentesis: Fluids are drained from the bloated abdominal cavity, easing symptoms such as fullness and swelling.

Other Symptom-Relieving Mesothelioma Treatments

  • Alternative Therapies: Alternative treatments like acupuncture and yoga may help patients naturally relieve symptoms. Patients should talk to their doctors before starting any alternative treatments.
  • Pain Medication: Patients may receive prescription painkillers with the supervision of their doctors.

Patients suffering from mesothelioma symptoms can ask their care team how palliative treatments may help.

Accessing Medical Care for Mesothelioma Symptoms

Veterans can get treated for mesothelioma symptoms from both private cancer centers and VA cancer centers.

The VA Health Care System works with many of the nation’s best and most prestigious doctors. These experts in treating mesothelioma can recommend the best treatments in each veteran’s case to manage symptoms of mesothelioma and help them live longer.

Top VA mesothelioma doctors include:

  • Dr. Avi Lebenthal

    Dr. Lebenthal treats veterans with mesothelioma at the VA Boston Health Care System. Dr. Leventhal is a military veteran of the Israeli army and understands the unique challenges that veterans face.

  • Dr. Robert B. Cameron

    Dr. Cameron treats veterans out of the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center and has over 20 years of experience treating pleural mesothelioma.

Disclaimer

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center has no affiliation with and is not endorsed or sponsored by any of the doctors listed above. The contact information above is listed for informational purposes only. You have the right to contact these doctors directly.

Help for Veterans With Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma symptoms can be distressing, but they can be eased with proper medical care. If you or a loved one has potential mesothelioma symptoms, contact our team to get help taking your next steps.

Our caring Veterans Advocates can help you:

  • Identify mesothelioma symptoms
  • Seek medical treatments from top doctors
  • Obtain financial aid for health care costs

Contact the Mesothelioma Veterans Center at (877) 450-8973 or chat to get started.

Common Questions About Mesothelioma Symptoms

When do symptoms of mesothelioma appear?

Mesothelioma symptoms can take 10-50 years to develop after someone is exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos fibers take decades to cause mutations in healthy cells. This length of time between exposure and symptoms is called the latency period.

While mesothelioma takes a long time to develop, it spreads quickly once symptoms set in.

Are mesothelioma symptoms painful?

Mesothelioma symptoms may not be noticeable at first but can worsen over time as the cancer spreads. Patients with late-stage mesothelioma often suffer from painful symptoms.

Thankfully, treatments can help patients manage mesothelioma symptoms and live longer.

What should I do if I have mesothelioma symptoms?

The American Cancer Society recommends getting medical care as soon as possible if mesothelioma symptoms appear.

If you wait too long, symptoms may worsen, and the cancer can spread. Getting an early mesothelioma diagnosis is vital to living longer and with fewer symptoms.

Veterans who know they were exposed to asbestos should get regular cancer screenings — even if they have no mesothelioma symptoms. Screenings can help catch mesothelioma before the symptoms appear or before the cancer has time to spread.

When should I see a doctor for mesothelioma symptoms?

Even if your mesothelioma symptoms are very mild, see a doctor immediately. Early detection of this cancer often means that more treatment options will be available.

Tell your doctor if you were ever exposed to asbestos in the past. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, so doctors can use this information to rule out more common diseases with similar symptoms.

Chat now to find doctors who can diagnose and treat your mesothelioma symptoms.

Veterans Support Team
Todd Gersten, MD PhotoReviewed by:Todd Gersten, MD

Double Board-Certified Oncologist and Hematologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Todd Gersten, MD is a double board-certified medical oncologist and hematologist specializing in general adult oncology and hematologic disease. He is a physician partner with the Florida Cancer Specialists and practices in Wellington, Florida.

Dr. Todd Gersten is an independently paid medical reviewer.

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 8 Sources
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  2. American Society of Clinical Oncology. “Mesothelioma Treatment Options.” Retrieved from: http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/mesothelioma/treatment-options. Accessed on May 13, 2020.
  3. Baylor College of Medicine. (2019, February 5). Symptoms and Diagnosis of Mesothelioma [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnoJVWZJyCU&t=52s
  4. Broeckx, G., & Pauwels, P. (2018, October). Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma: A Review. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6204422/
  5. Greenbaum, A., & Alexander, H. (2020, February). Peritoneal mesothelioma. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7082256/
  6. Mayo Clinic. (2022, March 22). Lung cancer. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lung-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20374620
  7. Mayo Clinic. (2020, October 20). Mesothelioma. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mesothelioma/symptoms-causes/syc-20375022
  8. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2021, September 02). Public Health: Asbestos. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/asbestos/index.asp
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