Mesothelioma symptoms can be vague. They are often dismissed or confused with other diseases and syndromes. But detecting mesothelioma early gives patients greater treatment options.

If you worked with asbestos or may have been exposed at work or home, it’s vital to watch for early mesothelioma warning signs.

4 Pleural Mesothelioma Warning Signs

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of the disease, accounting for up to 80% of cases. Cancer forms in the lung lining (pleura), and tumors develop over time. Therefore, early signs and symptoms primarily affect the chest area and respiratory system.

1. Difficulty Breathing

Difficulty breathing is a key early warning sign for pleural mesothelioma.

Patients also describe the feeling as “shallow breathing,” “shortness of breath” or “I can’t get a deep/full breath.” Breathing difficulties are most noticeable during exertion but can also happen during rest. For some patients, breathing problems may worsen when lying down.

These breathing symptoms occur when fluid builds up in the pleural cavity (the space between the lungs and the chest wall) — a condition called pleural effusion. As fluid collects, pressure increases on the lungs and decreases their ability to expand, limiting the oxygen intake.

2. Chest, Back, and Shoulder Pain

Pleural effusion also causes pain at the front or side of the chest, under the ribcage. Some patients also report pain in the lower back (opposite the lung area) and in one or both shoulders.

Pain might feel like a sharp stabbing sensation or it might feel dull and persistent. Chest pain may increase in severity when inhaling.

Tumors form as pleural mesothelioma progresses. As tumors increase in size, they put pressure on the lungs and sometimes the esophagus. This pressure may also result in pain. When pressing on the esophagus, tumors cause difficulty and pain swallowing.

3. Chronic Cough

A common early mesothelioma sign is a dry cough that won’t go away. It is often accompanied by wheezing, sometimes pain when coughing. In later stages, you might cough up blood.

Some patients experience a persistent cough without a break while others have a more chronic cough that is continually recurring.

4. Tissue Lumps

Mesothelioma tumors begin as small masses in the lung tissue. Pressed against the front of your chest, these masses may look and feel like small lumps beneath your skin.

Book an appointment with your physician as soon as you discover one or more unusual lump(s) in your chest area.

3 Peritoneal Mesothelioma Warning Signs

Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second-most common type of the disease. It accounts for an estimated 20-30% of cases. Cancer forms in the abdominal lining (peritoneum), and tumors later develop there and in the abdominal space. Most early warning signs present in this area and affect the digestive system.

1. Abdominal Pain and Swelling

Pain and swelling in the abdomen are the primary early warning signs for peritoneal mesothelioma.

These symptoms are caused by fluid build-up in the abdominal cavity (called ascites). The excess fluid puts pressure on internal organs and causes bloating.

Stomach pain or discomfort may occur chronically or it may not subside at all. Patients might also feel a sensation of “being full” and unusual swelling.

2. Nausea, Diarrhea, and Constipation

Symptoms that affect the stomach and bowels are common for peritoneal mesothelioma patients.

Early warning signs include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. Tumors grow as mesothelioma advances, putting additional pressure on internal organs.

Digestive issues like stomach pain and lack of appetite may lead to dietary issues from not receiving adequate nutrients. Anemia from low iron intake is one example. These symptoms and others are often confused with those of different syndromes, like Crohn’s and celiac.

3. Tissue Lumps

Small tumors form in the peritoneum as mesothelioma advances. Some masses might be visible through the skin as small lumps.

Contact your doctor when you first notice one or more unusual lumps on your abdomen.

General Mesothelioma Warning Signs

Like any type of cancer, mesothelioma warning signs can be broad. Some feel like flu-like symptoms and others are more specific to mesothelioma.

Other early mesothelioma warning signs include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Abnormal sweating
  • Body aches
  • General fatigue

If there’s a chance you were exposed to asbestos in the past, it’s crucial to monitor your health for mesothelioma symptoms and warning signs.

Our Patient Advocates are available to help and connect you with a mesothelioma specialist who can help with treatments that can improve your prognosis.

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Laura WrightWritten by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

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  1. American Cancer Society, “Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from Accessed on June 14, 2018.

  2. Cancer Council Victoria, “Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from Accessed on June 14, 2018.

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