Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma signs and symptoms vary depending on the location of the cancer. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include chest pain, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Peritoneal mesothelioma signs include digestive issues and weight loss. Medical treatments can help you manage mesothelioma symptoms.

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What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

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

Doctor using a stethoscope on a patientMesothelioma 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

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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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 in 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.

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 your chance of preventing it from spreading.

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. 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 develops in the delicate lining surrounding the lungs and not the lungs themselves.

The symptoms of malignant mesothelioma are similar to lung cancer, though. Shared symptoms of mesothelioma and lung cancer include a cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, and weight loss.

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

Looking for more information on mesothelioma? Our free Veterans Packet is loaded with helpful information on mesothelioma treatment, specialists, and more.

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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 the 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, and additional symptoms may 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 the 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.

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:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

Unfortunately, many patients don’t recognize these early symptoms of mesothelioma 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 body parts.

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

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Diagnosis of Symptoms for Mesothelioma

A proper cancer diagnosis is key to relieving malignant mesothelioma symptoms. With an accurate diagnosis, you can seek medical treatments that give you the best chance of longer survival with fewer symptoms.

Did you know?

Mesothelioma symptoms are often so vague that they are initially misdiagnosed as more common illnesses like the flu or pneumonia. 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 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 seek a second opinion from another doctor — to avoid a misdiagnosis.

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

Mesothelioma Symptoms Treatment

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.

One 60-year-old patient diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma after experiencing breathing problems achieved positive results. He underwent chemotherapy, which resulted in "dramatic effects," and had surgery that removed all cancerous cells, Japanese doctors wrote in a case report published in General Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery Cases in October 2023.

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 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 Cancer 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 mesothelioma experts can recommend the best treatments in each veteran’s case to manage symptoms of mesothelioma and help them live longer.

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  • File for VA health care to cover costs
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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 mesothelioma symptoms, contact our team for help taking your next steps.

Our caring Veterans Advocates can help you:

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

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

Mesothelioma Symptoms: Common Questions

When do mesothelioma symptoms start?

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.

How do you detect mesothelioma early?

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.

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.

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  2. American Society of Clinical Oncology. “Mesothelioma Treatment Options.” Retrieved from: Accessed on March 27, 2024.
  3. Baylor College of Medicine. Symptoms and Diagnosis of Mesothelioma [Video]. YouTube. Accessed on March 27, 2024.
  4. Broeckx, G., & Pauwels, P. (2018, October). Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma: A Review. Retrieved on March 27, 2024, from
  5. Greenbaum, A., & Alexander, H. Peritoneal mesothelioma. Retrieved March 27, 2024, from
  6. Mayo Clinic. Lung cancer. Retrieved March 27, 2024, from
  7. Mayo Clinic. Mesothelioma. Retrieved March 27, 2024, from
  8. Omura, K., Fukai, R., Nishida, T. et al. Biphasic pleural mesothelioma treated successfully with multimodal therapy: a case report. Gen Thorac Cardiovasc Surg Cases 2, 57 (2023). Accessed on March 27, 2024.
  9. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Public Health: Asbestos. Retrieved March 27, 2024, from