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Mesothelioma: Definition, Symptoms, Facts and Everything You Need To know

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Mesothelioma: Definition, Symptoms, Facts and Everything You Need To know

Meaning Of Mesothelioma

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma can be defined as the kind of cancer that is caused by exposure of Asbestos. The dangerous tumors form in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Symptoms and signs can involve shortness of breath and chest pain. The life expectancy for most mesothelioma patients is approximately 12 months after diagnosis.

Mesothelioma is distinguished by dangerous tumors that develop in the mesothelium, a layer of protective tissue that covers several organs.

Types of Mesothelioma

The four types of mesothelioma are identified by the location where tumors develop:

  • Pleural Mesothelioma (lungs)
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma (abdomen)
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma (heart)
  • Mesothelioma of the Tunica Vaginalis (testes).

Mesothelioma is a scarce and aggressive cancer. Treatments are available to prolong life expectancy and improve quality of life, but there is no total heal from it.

Facts About Mesothelioma

  • Approximately 3,000 mesothelioma cases are diagnosed yearly.
  • Mesothelioma has a long latency period, taking 20-50 years to develop into cancer.
  • Pleural mesothelioma accounts for 75% of all mesothelioma cases.
  • The average age of diagnosis is 65 or older.
  • People working directly with the asbestos mineral or with products containing asbestos are most at risk.
  • Symptoms of malignant mesothelioma are treatable, but the cancer is incurable.

Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Symptoms of mesothelioma start to show when tumors spread, grow and press against the chest wall and the abdominal cavity. Early diagnosis can assist patients’ chances of benefitting from more treatment options. Because symptoms are like those of other conditions, an initial misdiagnosis is common. It’s important to be aware of your history of asbestos exposure and discuss it with your doctor as soon as possible.

Pleural mesothelioma patients typically experience respiratory-related symptoms, including shortness of breath, chest pain and a cough. Mesothelioma patients may also experience fatigue, swelling and unexplained weight loss.

Common Mesothelioma Symptoms

Some symptoms are common among all mesothelioma types, while other signs of the cancer are unique to the tumor location.

For example, fatigue can be common to pleural, peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma cancers. However, pericardial mesothelioma is the only type that routinely leads to symptoms of heart palpitations and arrhythmias.

The following are the general common signs and symptoms of Mesothelioma:

  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Respiratory complications
  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness in the muscles

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Early signs of pleural mesothelioma can be like other respiratory diseases such as pneumonia or the flu. Common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, which forms on the soft tissue lining the lungs, include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Reduced chest expansion (difficulty breathing)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Muscle weakness
  • Swelling of the face and arms

When symptoms are discovered and treated without any delay, patients may gain from a higher quality of life and an increase in life expectancy. Symptom control is a vital component of comprehensive treatment for mesothelioma in the lungs.

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Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Early signs of peritoneal mesothelioma can be mistaken for digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or menstrual disorders like fibroids. Common symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma, which forms on the soft tissue lining the abdomen, include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abdominal fluid buildup (ascites)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite

Doctors can prescribe chemotherapy drugs, such as pemetrexed, cisplatin, carboplatin and gemcitabine, to shrink peritoneal mesothelioma tumors and slow cancer growth.

Specialists are now seeing extraordinary outcome with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). With excellent symptom control and the best treatments, many people live longer than mesothelioma statistics predict.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

Early signs of pericardial mesothelioma can be mistaken for heart disease. Common symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma include:

  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Heart murmurs

Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the lining around the heart called the pericardium. It is one of the rarest forms of the disease. Symptoms stem from thickening of the pericardium, which can make it harder for the heart to pump efficiently.

Testicular Mesothelioma Symptoms

Early signs of testicular mesothelioma can be mistaken for injury or illnesses such as epididymitis, which involves inflammation of the testicles. Common symptoms of testicular mesothelioma include:

  • Hydrocele (fluid in the scrotum)
  • Testicular pain
  • Swollen testes
  • Lump in scrotum

A lump in the testes is the most common sign of testicular mesothelioma, the rarest of all types of mesothelioma. It accounts for less than 1% of all mesothelioma cases.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma by Stage

A mesothelioma patient will experience symptoms that differ from stage 1 to stage 4 mesothelioma. The size of tumors and how far they have spread decides the stage classification and the location and size of tumors directly impacts the patient’s symptoms.

Early-Stage Mesothelioma Symptoms: Stage 1 and Stage 2
  • Dry cough or wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain in chest or abdomen
  • Pleural effusion (fluid buildup), leading to worsening pain and breathing difficulties
Late-Stage Mesothelioma Symptoms: Stage 3 and Stage 4
  • Increased and more persistent pain
  • Anemia and associated fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Respiratory complications
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bowel Obstruction

Factors That Influence Mesothelioma Symptoms

Small tumor size is the main reason mesothelioma patients don’t experience symptoms in the early stages of the cancer’s growth.

Mesothelioma tumors typically don’t become big enough to impact the body until late stages of cancer development including stage 3 and stage 4.

  • Chest Pain: Primarily due to tumors spreading into the chest wall and its nerves.
  • Difficulty Breathing: Caused by tumors restricting full expansion of the lungs.
  • Pleural Effusion: Results from tumors spreading extensively into the pleural lining or lymph nodes in the chest. This prevents fluid from properly draining out of the pleural cavity, which restricts the lung from expanding.

As tumors grow, they begin to place pressure against and grow into nearby organs and tissues. As infiltrating cancer tissue compress and compromise tissues and organs, they begin to malfunction, and, eventually, this leads to organ failure.

How Do Mesothelioma Symptoms Donates to Diagnosis?

Mesothelioma symptoms are the driving force that brings patients to the doctor to begin the diagnostic process. Because mesothelioma symptoms most commonly develop in stage 3 or stage 4, most patients don’t go to the doctor until the cancer has advanced to a late stage.

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Notify your primary care doctor about any history of asbestos exposure. Ask if they suggest any cancer screenings based upon your exposure history and personal health history. Catching cancer early gives a better chance of qualifying for aggressive cancer treatments that may improve survival.

Because it does not usually provide such signs until much later in the disease process, it is almost impossible to diagnose mesothelioma in stage 1 or 2 based on symptoms alone. However, in some instances, early-stage mesothelioma can produce enough pleural fluid around the lung to cause shortness of breath or cough without having spread.

A 2019 study found that stage 1 and stage 2 pleural mesothelioma patients who received less aggressive surgery combined with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or both lived the longest after diagnosis. The median survival of this group was 35 months, or nearly three years.

Mesothelioma cell type, epithelial versus sarcomatoid, does not alter the typical symptoms experienced by most patients with this cancer.

How Can One Survive with Mesothelioma Symptoms?

Many cancer centers now offer palliative cancer care that may involve prescription medication, physical therapy, occupational therapy and other approaches that helps your daily life and keep your symptoms in control.

Mesothelioma symptoms result from the cancer itself and may be similar to some of the side effects of cancer treatment.

Side effects of cancer treatment usually reduce days to weeks after treatment ends. Mesothelioma symptoms tend to progress as the cancer advances. Symptom management is critical to quality of life.

Discuss with your oncologist about a referral to a palliative care specialist. These doctors specialize in symptom management and maintaining or improving quality of life.

Managing Mesothelioma Symptoms

The following are the ways proven to manage Mesothelioma symptoms:

  • Alternative Therapies: Supportive complementary and alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and mind-body therapies, are shown to assist patients manage pain, anxiety and nausea.
  • PleurX Catheter: This allows the patient to drain the fluid at home every 2-3 days with the help of a small silicone catheter.
  • Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy alone will not cure mesothelioma, but it can shrink tumors and relieve pain and pressure.
  • Communication: Let your doctor know about changes in type or intensity of your symptoms. This will allow your doctor to recommend other procedures or therapies that will significantly lessen discomfort and pain.
  • Mesothelioma Specialists: Mesothelioma is a rare disease and seeking care from a mesothelioma specialty doctor can improve your access to cutting-edge therapies proven to improve symptoms and prolong survival after diagnosis. Treatment plans may include participation in clinical trials or prescriptions for immunotherapy medications. While success rates for immunotherapy treatment vary for each patient, these medications have shown promise and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Keytruda, Opdivo and Yervoy for malignant mesothelioma treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q) About Mesothelioma Symptoms

Question: How do you test for mesothelioma if you have symptoms?

Answer: Mesothelioma testing includes radiological imaging and confirmation through a biopsy. After a patient displays symptoms of mesothelioma, a doctor will order radiology exams such as chest X-rays and CT scans of the chest or abdomen. The surgeon or oncologist will then perform a thoracoscopy or other type of biopsy to confirm the mesothelioma diagnosis. Mesothelioma blood tests are still mostly experimental but can help narrow the diagnosis.

Question: Can mesothelioma be misdiagnosed?

Answer: Mesothelioma misdiagnosis is unfortunately common because of the rarity and complexity of the illness. It takes specialists with years of experience to accurately diagnose the disease, driving many patients to seek a mesothelioma second opinion. Many physicians and oncologists often misdiagnose the disease as other cancers or less severe conditions due to the similarity of symptoms.

Question: What should you do if you think you have mesothelioma?

Answer: If you suspect you may have mesothelioma, the best course of action is to seek qualified mesothelioma experts. These specialists have years of experience diagnosing, treating and managing this disease. There are experts in the fields of surgery, radiation oncology and pathology, all with specialized training and years of experience handling mesothelioma.


Signs of Mesothelioma

First Signs of Mesothelioma

The earliest signs of mesothelioma malignancy can include a cough, shortness of breath and chest, shoulder or abdominal pain. Too often mesothelioma isn’t diagnosed until symptoms become serious and patients are already in the later stages of this rare and serious form of cancer.

Knowing the first warning signs and symptoms, and knowing your history of asbestos exposure, can assist in the confirmation of an early mesothelioma diagnosis. An early diagnosis can help you qualify for life-extending therapies that may be unavailable to patients in later stages of mesothelioma.

In a 2020 information published in Case Reports, a patient’s first and only sign of pleural mesothelioma was gastric and colonic polyps discovered on an imaging scan. Testing revealed the polyps were metastases of pleural mesothelioma.

How To Know if One Have Mesothelioma?

A biopsy will confirm if you have mesothelioma. But doctors may first observe the early signs of mesothelioma by accident. A routine test, such as an X-ray or blood tests, may detect something unusual. Because symptoms resemble less serious diseases, they are not good indicators of the cancer.

In addition to a biopsy, mesothelioma testing commonly includes X-rays, CT scans and blood tests. Researchers are working on other innovative tests to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis, including a breath test.

How To Find a Specialist

If you have a history of exposure to asbestos and suspect that your symptoms specify mesothelioma, look for immediate medical attention. Tell your doctor about past work around asbestos and alert them to the possibility of an asbestos-related disease. Ask for a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist if needed.


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