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Mesothelioma Symptoms

Some of the most common signs of mesothelioma include fluid buildup, coughing, and abdominal pain. Patients may experience different mesothelioma symptoms depending on whether their cancer starts near the lungs or abdomen. Learn more about signs and symptoms, how to manage them, and when you should see a doctor for a diagnosis.

Medically reviewed by: Mark Levin, MD

Last updated:

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Symptoms depend on the patient’s cancer stage and what type of mesothelioma they have.

  • Mesothelioma that develops in the lung lining can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and a buildup of chest fluid.
  • Mesothelioma that develops in the abdominal lining can cause stomach pain, bloating, and weight loss.
Mesothelioma Symptoms Video Thumbnail

Amy Fair, a registered nurse with 20+ years of mesothelioma experience, explains the symptoms that asbestos exposure victims should watch for. Call (866) 608-8933 today to connect with Amy and get your medical questions answered. View Transcript.

Duration: 2 min 01 sec

Some of the symptoms of mesothelioma at first, and the reason people delay treatment, is it can be something that mimics a cold. You know it can be a small fever, it can be chills, it can be shortness of breath, a minor cough. This is also followed sometimes by substantial weight loss.

Of concern is when those develop into severe fatigue, severe cough and someone then develops something called a pleural effusion, where they’re getting fluid in the lung, which usually warrants them to seek more extensive medical treatment.

An unresolved cough or an unresolved episode of shortness of breath, fever, chills, weight loss, should warrant someone to seek further testing and treatment by their physician.

The symptoms of mesothelioma, with the pleural mesothelioma, start many times with shortness of breath, fatigue, extreme weight loss, chest pain.

The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma that attacks the abdomen, mainly is ascites, which is fluid in the abdomen, abdominal distension, vomiting, some constipation if there’s blockages.

Pericardial Mesothelioma, some of the symptoms can be, again, chest pain, shortness of breath, sometimes a condition called Atrial Fibrillation where the heart is not beating appropriately because of the constricting disease in the lining of the heart.

If you feel like you’re not getting better, this is something new for you, it’s certainly best to encourage your doctor to proceed with more testing.

The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. After someone breathes in or swallows asbestos fibers, it can take 10-50 years for symptoms to appear because of how slowly the disease develops.

However, it only takes a few months for mesothelioma symptoms that aren’t managed to worsen and become severe.

If you or a loved one is experiencing potential warning signs of mesothelioma, download our Free Symptoms Checklist now.

Mesothelioma symptoms checklist
Mesothelioma Symptoms Checklist

Monitor your health with our easy-to-use checklist for a better chance at early diagnosis and treatment.

Get Your Free Checklist

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is cancer that forms in the pleura, which is the thin lining that protects the lungs.

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid buildup (pleural effusion)
  • Hoarseness
  • Lumps under the skin on your chest
  • Pain under the rib cage
  • Weight loss
  • Worsening cough

Did You Know?

The most common symptom of pleural mesothelioma is pleural effusion. More than 80% of pleural mesothelioma cases start with this symptom, according to cancer research published in Pathology International.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the soft tissue lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). This type of mesothelioma mainly affects the stomach, intestines, liver, and spleen.

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating (distention) of the stomach
  • Constipation
  • Excess abdominal fluid (peritoneal ascites)
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss

If you’re experiencing mesothelioma symptoms, seek medical care as soon as possible. Bring our Free Symptoms Checklist along to ensure your doctor has the information they need to help you.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pericardial mesothelioma forms in the protective lining of the heart (pericardium).

Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeats and murmurs (arrhythmias)
  • Night sweats
  • Palpitations
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Unexplained weight loss

Testicular Mesothelioma Symptoms

Testicular mesothelioma cancer develops in the lining of the testes (tunica vaginalis).

Symptoms of testicular mesothelioma can include:

  • Discomfort or pain around the scrotum
  • Excess fluid and swelling of the scrotum (hydrocele)
  • Masses on the testicles or in the testicular lining

What Are the Early Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma patients may first complain of persistent coughing, shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pain, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and a general feeling of discomfort.

The early signs of mesothelioma can be mild and similar to symptoms of more common illnesses. Some patients may not have any symptoms at all.

You should make an appointment with a doctor if you’re experiencing any symptoms — especially if you have a history of asbestos exposure — to rule out or diagnose mesothelioma.

If you do have mesothelioma, it’s better to be diagnosed at an early stage when treatment options are more effective.

What Are the Symptoms of Advanced Mesothelioma?

Patients whose cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body may notice their existing symptoms get worse or that they’re developing new symptoms.

Advanced symptoms of mesothelioma cancer can include:

  • Anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells)
  • Blood clots
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Extreme chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle atrophy (wasting)
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Swelling of the face or arms

Get our Free Mesothelioma Guide today to take the first step toward better understanding this cancer, its symptoms, and your options for care.

How to Manage Your Symptoms

There are specific treatments that can reduce mesothelioma symptoms or keep them from getting worse.

Treatment focused on relieving symptoms and improving quality of life is called palliative mesothelioma treatment. You can receive palliative treatment at any stage of mesothelioma.

Palliative treatments that can help manage mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Paracentesis: This procedure relieves the symptoms of ascites by removing excess fluid from your abdominal cavity.
  • Partial pleurectomy: This surgery can help manage pleural effusions by removing part of the lung lining.
  • Pleurodesis: This treatment seals the two layers of your lung lining to prevent pleural effusions.
  • PleurX™ Catheter: You can use this small at-home catheter to drain extra fluid and help ease chest pain and pressure.
  • Thoracentesis: Your doctor uses a small needle to remove excess fluid from the thoracic (chest) cavity to help you breathe better.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also help manage chest and abdominal pain by shrinking mesothelioma tumors that may be pressing on your nearby nerves, bones, or organs.

Mesothelioma Symptoms & Diagnosis

If you’re experiencing potential symptoms of mesothelioma, you should contact a specialist to get an accurate diagnosis.

Some doctors recommend that patients with certain risk factors, such as a known history of asbestos exposure, get regular imaging scans like chest X-rays or computed tomography scans (CT scans). However, a biopsy is the only way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.

“If you feel like you’re not getting better and that this is something new for you, it’s best to encourage your doctor to proceed with more testing.”

- Quote from Amy Fair, RN, Mesothelioma Hope Patient Advocate

Getting a diagnosis from a mesothelioma specialist can help you access proper treatment to ease your symptoms and keep cancer from spreading. Download our Free Symptoms Checklist and share it with your doctor so you can get a correct diagnosis.

Mesothelioma symptoms checklist
Mesothelioma Symptoms Checklist

Monitor your health with our easy-to-use checklist for a better chance at early diagnosis and treatment.

Get Your Free Checklist

Get Help Recognizing the Signs of Mesothelioma

Being able to identify the symptoms of mesothelioma is critical if you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos.

If you’re experiencing possible symptoms — even if you aren’t sure they’re related to asbestos exposure — you should see a mesothelioma specialist as soon as possible.

You can also get your copy of our Free Mesothelioma Guide for detailed information on symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma FAQs

What are the early warning signs of mesothelioma?

Pleural effusion (fluid buildup in the lungs), chest pain, dry cough, and difficulty breathing are the most common early symptoms of pleural mesothelioma.

Some of the first warning signs of peritoneal mesothelioma include buildup of abdominal fluid (ascites), bloating, weight loss, and vomiting.

How does mesothelioma begin?

Mesothelioma begins when tiny asbestos fibers are inhaled or swallowed. These fibers accumulate in the body over time and damage cells in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart.

When the damaged cells undergo genetic mutations, it can cause cancer cells to grow uncontrollably and mesothelioma tumors to form. Mesothelioma cancer has a long latency period, which means it can take decades to develop after initial asbestos exposure.

What is the most common presenting symptom of malignant mesothelioma?

Pleural effusion (fluid around the lung) is the most common initial symptom of mesothelioma cancer. This excess fluid build-up can cause related symptoms like chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Can you have mesothelioma without knowing?

Yes, it is possible to have mesothelioma without knowing it. This cancer can develop for many years without causing symptoms. When symptoms finally appear, they may be misdiagnosed as other common health issues.

As a result, people may not realize they have mesothelioma until the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. If you have a history of asbestos exposure — even if it was a long time ago — and you aren’t feeling well, see a mesothelioma doctor as soon as possible.

How do I know if I have mesothelioma?

The only way to confirm whether you have mesothelioma is to get a biopsy. However, if you’re concerned about mesothelioma, monitor yourself for certain symptoms like persistent coughing, chest or abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, and unexplained weight loss.

If you’re noticing any of these early warning signs, a mesothelioma doctor can take imaging scans and order a biopsy to provide an accurate diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of mesothelioma near death?

Common symptoms near death include severe pain in the chest or abdomen, difficulty breathing, anemia, severe fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty swallowing.

Since late-stage mesothelioma patients may get weaker and become bed-bound, it’s important to learn about symptom management and other forms of end-of-life care.

Dr. Mark LevinReviewed by:Mark Levin, MD

Certified Oncologist and Hematologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Mark Levin, MD, has over 30 years of experience in academic and community hematology and oncology. In addition to serving as Chief or Director at four different teaching institutions throughout his life, he is still a practicing clinician, has taught and designed formal education programs, and has authored numerous publications in various fields related to hematology and oncology.

Dr. Mark Levin is an independently paid medical reviewer.

  • Board Certified Oncologist
  • 30+ Years Experience
  • Published Medical Author
Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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