Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma symptoms can develop decades after asbestos exposure. Some signs of mesothelioma may be mild and mistaken for more common illnesses. It is important to contact a doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing any symptoms. Download our Free Mesothelioma Symptoms Checklist and share it with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.

Fact-Checked and Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mark Levin

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Doctor checking an elderly male's breathing with a stethoscope.

Malignant mesothelioma symptoms depend on the patient’s cancer stage and what form of this cancer they have. There are several types of mesothelioma, and each has its own unique symptoms.

Common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include chest pain, shortness of breath, and chest-fluid buildup. Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, and weight loss.

The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. After someone inhales or ingests asbestos fibers, it can take 10-50 years for signs of mesothelioma to appear due to how slowly the disease develops.

It only takes a few months for untreated mesothelioma symptoms to worsen and become severe. On average, patients who do not receive treatment live around 6 months after diagnosis.

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.

After a diagnosis, you can access treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation to ease your symptoms and improve your life expectancy.

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Pleural Mesothelioma Signs and Symptoms

Malignant pleural mesothelioma forms within the pleura, which is the protective tissue lining that covers the lungs and chest.

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma and accounts for around 80% of cases.

Some common pleural mesothelioma symptoms are pain in the chest area, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, cough, and fatigue.

Pleural mesothelioma is the only type of mesothelioma that has its own staging system.

Early-Stage Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Patients with early-stage (stages 1 and 2) pleural mesothelioma often experience vague symptoms that mimic signs of more common, less severe illnesses.

Early-stage pleural mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid buildup (pleural effusions)
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
Did You Know?

More than 80% of pleural mesothelioma cases start with pleural effusions, according to the medical journal Pathology International.

Many patients are not diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in these early stages since symptoms may go undetected. It is important to take note of any of the above symptoms you may be experiencing and consult a doctor, especially if you were exposed to asbestos.

Late-Stage Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Patients with late-stage (stages 3 and 4) pleural mesothelioma may notice more painful and uncomfortable symptoms. In these stages, cancer spreads to the lymph nodes or bloodstream. This can cause existing symptoms to worsen and new, severe symptoms to appear.

Late-stage pleural mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells)
  • Blood clots
  • Chest pain
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lumps under the skin of the chest
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Shortness of breath

Unfortunately, patients with late-stage pleural mesothelioma symptoms may not qualify for life-extending surgical treatments such as an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP). Thankfully, other treatments such as nutrition therapy, medication, and physical therapy may still help improve quality of life.

If you’re experiencing severe mesothelioma symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Before your visit, download our Free Questions to Ask Your Doctor Checklist to ensure you leave with the information you need to move forward

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Peritoneal Mesothelioma Signs and Symptoms

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

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating (distention) of the stomach
  • Changes in bowel habits (bowel obstruction)
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Malnutrition and loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss

As peritoneal mesothelioma tumors grow, they can press on organs in the abdomen and cause fluid buildup and swelling. This causes a painful bloated feeling in the stomach.

Symptoms of Less Common Mesothelioma Types

Pericardial and testicular mesothelioma are much rarer types of mesothelioma. They often have a poor health outlook (prognosis).

Thankfully, there are several symptoms to look for to help ensure early detection and timely treatment.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pericardial mesothelioma forms in the protective lining of the heart (pericardium). It causes tightness and constriction of the heart muscles due to tissue inflammation.

Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid buildup in the heart
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irregular heartbeats and heart murmurs (arrhythmias)
  • Night sweats
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Unexplained weight loss

Patients may be able to manage pericardial mesothelioma symptoms with pericardiocentesis, a surgical procedure that involves removing fluid buildup from the pericardium.

Testicular Mesothelioma Symptoms

Testicular mesothelioma occurs when cancerous tumors form in the lining of the testes (tunica vaginalis).

Symptoms of testicular mesothelioma may include:

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

Treatment for testicular mesothelioma includes surgery to remove one or both affected testicles — called an orchidectomy — as well as chemotherapy.

It’s normal to have questions regarding your mesothelioma symptoms and diagnosis. Download our Free Questions to Ask Your Doctor Checklist before your next appointment to help you stay organized and get the answers you need.

Diagnosing Mesothelioma Symptoms

Once you begin to notice signs and symptoms of mesothelioma, it is important to contact a doctor to get a diagnosis. Only a biopsy can confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.

A tissue sample is prepared for biopsy to make a mesothelioma diagnosis
A lab technician prepares a tissue sample for biopsy

During a biopsy, a doctor will use a small needle to collect tissue or fluid samples to analyze for the presence of cancer cells. However, knowing the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma may help you receive an earlier diagnosis, the best treatment options, and a better prognosis.

Some doctors recommend that patients with certain mesothelioma risk factors, such as a known history of asbestos exposure, get regular imaging tests to detect any signs of cancer early on. These tests may include chest X-rays or computed tomography scans (CT scans).

Contact a doctor as soon as you experience symptoms

Misdiagnosing Mesothelioma Symptoms

Since mesothelioma is so rare, doctors often misdiagnose symptoms. Depending on the location of the disease, a physician may mistake symptoms of mesothelioma as signs of a less severe condition.

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma may be misdiagnosed as:

  • A benign (noncancerous) tumor
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Lung cancer
  • Pneumonia

Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma may be misdiagnosed as:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Ovarian cancer

Getting a formal and correct diagnosis can help you get proper cancer treatment to ease your mesothelioma symptoms as quickly as possible. Consulting with a mesothelioma specialist can help you get an accurate diagnosis and avoid misdiagnosis.

Patients can also get a second opinion if they think they have mesothelioma but were misdiagnosed with another condition.

“If you feel like you’re not getting better — this is something new for you — it’s best to encourage your doctor to proceed with more testing.”
Amy Fair, RN, Mesothelioma Hope Patient Advocate

Download our Free Symptoms Checklist to track any signs of mesothelioma and share them with your doctor so you can get an accurate diagnosis.

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Monitor your health using our free symptoms checklist for a better chance at early diagnosis and treatment.

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Treatment for Mesothelioma Symptoms

An elderly male patient discusses mesothelioma symptoms with his doctor

There are several mesothelioma treatments that can reduce symptoms or keep them under control. These treatment options can vary depending on the type and stage of mesothelioma, as well as overall patient health.

The goal of treatment is to improve life expectancy and quality of life. Treatment for patients with advanced mesothelioma often focuses on relieving painful symptoms and keeping the patient comfortable rather than increasing their survival time. This is known as palliative treatment.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptom Management

Standard curative treatments for pleural mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Traditional life-extending treatment for pleural mesothelioma includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation to remove or reduce tumors.

For patients that cannot receive life-extending treatments, palliative care is available to ease symptoms.

There are several ways to manage your pleural mesothelioma symptoms with various palliative care options, in addition to traditional treatment.

Palliative cancer care for pleural mesothelioma may include:

  • Clinical trials: Clinical trials test new mesothelioma treatments with the hopes of managing symptoms and finding a cure. Your doctor can help determine if you qualify to join a clinical trial.
  • Pleurodesis: This procedure involves sealing the two layers of the pleura to prevent recurring fluid buildup, and allows the patient to avoid repeated punctures to drain fluid.
  • PleurX™ Catheter: This small catheter drains uncomfortable fluid buildup at home to ease pressure and pain in the chest.
  • Thoracentesis: Doctors use a small needle to remove extra fluid from the thoracic cavity (chest) to help you breathe better.

In addition to standard treatments, there are also plenty of alternative therapy options that may be available to ease pleural mesothelioma symptoms.

Some alternative therapies include breathing exercises, acupuncture, and yoga. These natural therapies can also help ease the side effects of treatment, such as fatigue, nausea, anxiety, and more. However, they are not a substitute for medical treatment.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptom Management

Common treatment methods for peritoneal mesothelioma include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Cytoreduction with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) is a surgical procedure that involves removing visible tumors from the abdomen and treating the area with a heated chemotherapy solution to kill off any remaining cancer cells. Cytoreduction with HIPEC can ease peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms and improve the overall quality of life.

Patients experiencing bloating and fluid buildup may also require a paracentesis. This procedure involves removing extra fluid from the abdominal cavity to relieve pressure and improve digestive and respiratory functions.

Radiation therapy can also help control symptoms since it can shrink tumors and kill cancer cells.

Alternative treatments may also be used as palliative care to help peritoneal mesothelioma patients manage their pain, nausea, stress, sleeping issues, and more. As with pleural mesothelioma, it’s important to note that, while helpful, these therapies shouldn’t be used as substitutes for regular medical treatment from a mesothelioma doctor.

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Learn More About the Signs of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma symptoms can take years to develop. It is important to know the signs of mesothelioma, especially if you have been exposed to asbestos.

If you experience possible mesothelioma symptoms — even if you are unsure whether you were exposed to asbestos — see a specialist as soon as possible and tell them what you know about your exposure history. From there, a mesothelioma doctor can order diagnostic tests to get the answers you need.

Contact our team of Patient Advocates today at (866) 608-8933 to get connected with top mesothelioma doctors and cancer centers in your area.

Mesothelioma Symptoms FAQs

What are the early signs of mesothelioma?

Shortness of breath, chest pain, dry cough, and difficulty breathing are the most common early symptoms of pleural mesothelioma.

Some common warning signs of peritoneal mesothelioma include abdominal fluid buildup, stomach bloating, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting.

Some patients may experience other abdominal-related symptoms that may worsen as their cancer spreads.

When do mesothelioma symptoms appear?

Most mesothelioma symptoms appear about 10-50 years after asbestos exposure. Exposure to this mineral is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Stray asbestos fibers that are inhaled or ingested can lay dormant for decades after they stick to organ linings.

However, the exact timing of when symptoms of mesothelioma show up varies for each patient.

What are the most common mesothelioma symptoms near death?

Near the end of life, mesothelioma can cause a wide range of symptoms. These include severe pain in the chest or abdomen, difficulty breathing, anemia, severe fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty swallowing.

As mesothelioma progresses, these symptoms may worsen, leading late-stage patients to become increasingly weak and possibly bed-bound.

Mesothelioma can cause a great deal of discomfort near death, so it’s important to provide these patients with proper pain management and other forms of end-of-life care.

Is mesothelioma always fatal?

Although mesothelioma is a terminal disease with a generally poor outlook, there are many survivors who have outlived their original prognosis by several years. For this reason, it’s always important to stay hopeful during your mesothelioma journey.

Make sure to monitor any symptoms of mesothelioma and consult a specialist to ensure you get timely treatment.

Reviewed by:Dr. Mark Levin

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 also 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

Mesothelioma Hope was founded by a team of passionate health advocates to educate people about this aggressive form of cancer. Mesothelioma affects thousands of people each year. Our team works tirelessly to give hope to those impacted by mesothelioma. Learn more about operating principles and our Editorial Guidelines.

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