Symptoms of mesothelioma vary on a per-person basis as well as by type of mesothelioma in relation to its progression. You can divide symptoms into two major groups – early symptoms and symptoms related to progression or spreading. Early symptoms generally include coughing and breathlessness. Once the disease begins to progress though, more severe symptoms will appear.
Despite the many variances of the disease over time, there are some common symptoms that occur in most cases of mesothelioma once they begin to intensify with the progression of the disease. For example, most patients begin to report pain, fatigue, and respiratory problems. The symptoms will continue to worsen over time without some kind of medical intervention. In regards to pain, the area where the pain occurs will be related to the location of the mesothelioma. Symptoms will also occur in varying degrees.
In addition to the more specific symptoms of mesothelioma, there may be underlying symptoms common to most medical conditions like anemia. Anemia is a medical condition where you have a low red blood count.
Pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the lung membrane, has symptoms that include:
- Chest pains or upper back pain
- Coughing (which may also be painful)
- Breathlessness or other difficulties while breathing
- Formation of lumps underneath skin on chest area
- Unusual weight loss
- Pleural thickening or effusions
In a small number of cases people with pleural mesothelioma are asymptomatic meaning they have no symptoms (at least for many decades). However, in most cases there is pleural effusion. Chest pain is common while bloody sputum is not.1
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma, which occurs in the abdominal lining, include:
- Abdominal pains and inflammation
- Inflammation to feet
- Unusual weight loss
- Chronic nausea
- Pain in lower back
- Difficulties passing bowels
- Unexplained exhaustion
- Muscle weakness
Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining of the heart, include:
- Troubles breathing
- Heart palpitations
- Vascular compression
- Chronic coughing
- Effusion in the pericardial space
In approximately 12 percent of cases there is pericardial thickening. Other symptoms that patients have reported include a thickening waist, digestive problems, and indications of an abdominal mass.2
The only symptom of testicular mesothelioma, also called mesothelioma of tunica vaginalis, is a lump in one or both testicles. There may be other symptoms of testicular mesothelioma but, because it is so rare, any other possible symptoms are currently unknown. However, it is quite aggressive and has a high recurrence and a high mortality rate.3 If you notice any unusual lumps in the testicles, it’s critical that you report your symptom right away to the doctor.
Symptoms of Metastasized Mesothelioma
Malignant mesothelioma is characterized by the fact that it can spread to other parts of the body. Once this spreading (metastasis) occurs, the symptoms of the various types of mesothelioma can overlap and other symptoms can develop. Some of the possible symptoms of metastasized mesothelioma include:4
- Coughing up blood
- Spitting up mucus
- Nerve problems
- Loss of limb use
The sooner you report symptoms the better position the doctor will be in to relieve symptoms, assist with pain management, and prolong life.
Emergence of Mesothelioma Symptoms
In most cases, mesothelioma does not develop until many years after asbestos exposure. Usually, patients do not experience any symptoms at all until at least 15 years after exposure but it is even more common for longer latency periods. There have been numerous studies which calculated the mean latency period time. These studies have come to varying results but generally put the period at about 30-50 years after asbestos exposure. With peritoneal mesothelioma though, the latency period is generally shorter at about 20-30 years.
Once symptoms do occur, they are often mild. Most people with mesothelioma symptoms do not seek medical attention because of the commonality of these symptoms. It is only after the symptoms become severe that most patients seek medical attention. By this point, the mesothelioma has typically metastasized and thus holds a grim prognosis. Early detection of mesothelioma is crucial for a positive prognosis. Thus, people who have been exposed to asbestos are encouraged to familiarize themselves with mesothelioma symptoms and seek treatment at the onset of chronic symptoms. They should also inform their doctors about the asbestos exposure so they too may be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of mesothelioma.
1 Symptoms of Mesothelioma (2010) Retrieved from the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation at: http://www.curemeso.org/site/c.kkLUJ7MPKtH/b.4023387/k.643A/Mesothelioma_Information.htm#Symptoms_of_Meso
4 Mesothelioma (2010) Retrieved at Better Health Channel – Victorian Government Department of Health at: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Mesothelioma\]