Understanding the Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma symptoms vary depending on the type. Pleural, peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma all cause different symptoms. Pleural symptoms affect the chest, lungs and ability to breathe. Peritoneal symptoms affect the abdomen and cause pain and swelling. Pericardial symptoms damage the heart.
Symptoms worsen and change as the disease spreads throughout the body, so catching the disease early can literally save a life. As tumors metastasize (spread to other locations), it can cause more symptoms that increase a patient’s pain. Additional problems, including tumors which prevent organs and systems from functioning, can arise as a result.
Understanding and monitoring symptoms helps diagnose mesothelioma, provide a prognosis and adjust treatments for patients as needed.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
Pleural mesothelioma begins in the mesothelium of the chest cavity. The mesothelium is a thin, double-layered lining of fluid and tissue that covers and protects organs. The mesothelium in the chest cavity is called the pleura.
Because pleural mesothelioma tumors begin growing in the pleura, its symptoms relate mostly to the respiratory system. This includes the chest and lungs. Due to the localization of the disease early on, many symptoms present themselves on the side of the chest where the mesothelioma is located.
Top symptoms associated with pleural mesothelioma include:
- Pain in one side of the chest or under the rib cage
- Pain in the lower back
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing in deeply
- Tightening sensation across the chest
- Fluid buildup (pleural effusions)
- Persistent, painful cough
- Hoarse or dry voice
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lumps of tissue building underneath the skin around the chest
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Body aches and excessive sweating
Most patients experience fluid buildup in the lungs, as this is the body’s main reaction to tumor growths in the pleura. Many of these symptoms may appear over time as the disease progresses. Symptoms worsen in the later stages of the disease. Almost all patients suffer extreme difficulty breathing by the end stages.
Palliative therapy is an important form of treatment for end-stage pleural mesothelioma as it helps improve breathing and relieve pain.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the mesothelium of the abdominal cavity. The mesothelium of the abdominal cavity is called the peritoneum. The peritoneum is a thin lining that covers and protects most of the abdominal organs.
Peritoneal mesothelioma results in cancerous tumors, which grow in the peritoneum. These tumors cause discomfort or pain in the abdomen and digestive systems.
Other common symptoms associated with peritoneal mesothelioma include:
- Abdominal swelling or bloating
- Fluid buildup (ascites)
- Lumps of tissue in the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
The majority of patients experience abdominal swelling due to fluid buildup due and/or tumor growths in the peritoneum. As the disease progresses, symptoms may worsen and new symptoms may present themselves. Digestive and bowel issues also worsen as the cancer spreads.
Surgical procedures and chemotherapy can effectively manage these symptoms in the early stages of the disease, because these treatments remove the tumors and kill cancer cells. Palliative therapies also help make peritoneal mesothelioma patients feel more comfortable in the ends stages by reducing abdominal swelling and other symptoms.
Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms
Pericardial mesothelioma starts in the pericardium, the mesothelium lining that protects the heart cavity. This form of mesothelioma is extremely rare, which makes it difficult to predict exact symptom sets and patterns.
Common symptoms associated with this form of mesothelioma include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pains
- Irregular heartbeat
- Fluid buildup or bleeding in the pericardium
Because there are few cases of pericardial mesothelioma, it’s difficult to predict how symptoms will evolve. As with all types of mesothelioma, symptoms will continue to worsen without treatment.
Treatments in the early stages of pericardial mesothelioma try to remove or shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. Treatments for late-stage pericardial mesothelioma aim to reduce pain and improve quality of life through palliative therapies.
Symptom Latency and Progression
Mesothelioma lies dormant for 20 to 40 years in what doctors call the latency period before symptoms arise. Initial mesothelioma symptoms may begin slowly with abdominal pain or shortness of breath, depending on the disease location. Unfortunately, these symptoms often get mistaken for common illnesses because of the long latency period of mesothelioma.
Because of this, initial symptoms often don’t present themselves until mesothelioma has progressed into the later stages. Sadly, this proves deadly for many.
When to See Your Doctor
The disease latency period combined with vague symptoms makes mesothelioma difficult to detect. However, if you have been exposed to asbestos in the past, it is critical to see your doctor immediately if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above.
Early detection can greatly improve life expectancy by increasing the effectiveness of treatments. Even if your symptoms are advanced, it’s still not too late because many treatment options exist. Your health care team will do everything possible to treat the disease and improve your quality of life.