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 to get an accurate diagnosis if you are experiencing any symptoms. Download our free Mesothelioma Symptoms Checklist to share with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.

Common Mesothelioma Symptoms

Malignant mesothelioma symptoms can often 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 shortness of breath, chest pain, and chest fluid buildup. Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include abdomen pain, bloating, and weight loss.

The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Although asbestos fibers can stick to the lining of organs immediately after someone inhales or swallows them, it can take 10 to 50 years for signs of mesothelioma to appear due to asbestos’ long latency period.

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.

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Amy Fair, a nurse with over 20 years of mesothelioma experience, explains the symptoms that victims exposed to asbestos watch for. 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.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma can help you quickly recognize any abnormalities and get tested. Getting an early diagnosis can greatly improve your overall prognosis.

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 Symptoms

Malignant pleural mesothelioma forms within the protective tissue lining that covers the lungs and chest, called the pleura. It is the most common type of mesothelioma and accounts for around 80% of cases.

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

Many patients are not diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in these early stages since symptoms may go undetected. It is important to take note of these symptoms 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, the 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
  • 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 treatments such as extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP). Thankfully, other treatments may still be available to ease symptoms. Contact a doctor as soon as possible to get a diagnosis to see which treatment options are available.

Download our free Mesothelioma Symptoms Checklist to track signs, and share it with your doctor when getting a diagnosis.

Mesothelioma Symptom Checklist

Download our free checklist to track symptoms for a better chance at early diagnosis and treatment.

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Peritoneal Mesothelioma 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 develop, it becomes difficult for the abdominal lining to move. 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. These types of mesothelioma often have a poor health outlook (prognosis).

Thankfully, there are several symptoms to look for to 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.

You may have a lot of questions regarding your mesothelioma symptoms and diagnosis. Download our free Questions to Ask Your Doctor Checklist to make sure you get the answers needed during your fight against mesothelioma.

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Diagnosing Mesothelioma Symptoms

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

elderly male talking with doctor about treatment options

Only a biopsy can confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. During a biopsy, a doctor will use a small needle to collect tissue or fluid samples to analyze the presence of cancer cells. However, knowing how to spot 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 a known history of asbestos exposure get regular imaging tests — such as X-rays or computed tomography scans (CT scans) — to detect any signs of cancer early on.

Misdiagnosing Mesothelioma Symptoms

Since mesothelioma is so rare, symptoms are often misdiagnosed. Depending on the location of the disease, doctors may mistake symptoms of mesothelioma as signs of less severe conditions.

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 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.

Treatment for Mesothelioma Symptoms

There are several available mesothelioma treatment options to manage symptoms. 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 improving survival rate.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptom Management

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

clinical trial testing being performed by a scientist

For patients that cannot receive life-extending treatments, palliative care options are 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 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 for 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 chest cavity 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 a nutritious diet. These natural therapies can also help ease the side effects from treatment, such as fatigue, nausea, anxiety, and more. However, these non-medical treatments are not a substitute for medical treatment from mesothelioma doctors and specialists.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptom Management

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

Cytoreduction with HIPEC is a surgical procedure to remove visible tumors from the abdomen to 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/respiratory functions.

Radiation can help control symptoms as well since it can shrink tumors and kill cancer cells.

Alternative therapies may also be used as a form of palliative care to help peritoneal mesothelioma patients manage their pain, nausea, stress, sleeping issues, and more.

Talk to one of our caring Patient Advocates to learn more about the treatment options that may be best for you.

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Learn More About Your Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma symptoms can often go unnoticed for years. 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 specialist can order diagnostic tests to get the answers you need.

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

Mesothelioma Symptoms FAQs

What are the early warning 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 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 be dormant for decades after they stick to organ linings.

However, how long it takes for symptoms of mesothelioma to show up can vary for each patient.

What are the four stages of mesothelioma?

Pleural mesothelioma is the only type of mesothelioma that can be broken down into four stages.

Stages 1-2 are considered early-stage mesothelioma, and treatment is focused around slowing cancer growth and improving life expectancy. Stages 3-4 are considered late-stage mesothelioma, and life-extending treatment options may not be available due to the extent of cancer growth.

Is mesothelioma always fatal?

No. Although mesothelioma is a deadly disease with a generally poor outlook, there are many survivors who have gone on to stay cancer-free for years after their original diagnosis. It is important to always 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 nearly 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.

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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