Mesothelioma symptoms can vary depending on the part of the body where the tumors have developed. For instance, patients with pleural mesothelioma will have different symptoms than those with peritoneal mesothelioma, and patients with pericardial mesothelioma will have different symptoms than those with testicular mesothelioma.
General mesothelioma symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, excessive sweating and blood clots. There may be more symptoms based on the type of mesothelioma that is present.
The majority of symptoms occur in the general area of the primary tumor, although some may affect the entire body. Most symptoms gradually worsen over time.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- A dry or raspy cough that persists for days
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
- Pain in the chest, neck, shoulders or ribs
- Painful breathing, often accompanied by faint or harsh breathing sounds
- Reduced chest expansion
- Visible lumps that protrude underneath the skin on the chest
- Pleural effusions
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma
Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdomen. People may experience:
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Persistent feeling of fullness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Night sweats
Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma
Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the lining of the heart. Common symptoms include:
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Heart murmurs
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)—especially when lying flat
Because few patients have been diagnosed with testicular mesothelioma, researchers have not conclusively linked specific symptoms with this type of cancer. However, some patients have reported swelling and fluid accumulation in one or both of their testicles.
Most symptoms do not arise until later in the progression of the cancer. Because the warning signs can also be attributed to other common conditions such as pneumonia, several different diagnostic tests may be necessary to correctly pinpoint the cause. A biopsy, such as a chest X-ray, CT scan or blood test, is required to diagnose mesothelioma.
Occupations that increase the risk of mesothelioma
Because mesothelioma is primarily caused by long-term asbestos exposure, there are workers in certain occupations who are more at risk than others. Prior to the 1980s, little about the health risks of asbestos exposure was known. Unfortunately, many blue-collar workers during and prior to this time came into contact with asbestos on a regular basis. Occupations associated with the most risk include:
- Asbestos miners
- Construction workers
- Factory workers
- Shipbuilders and shipyard workers
- Textile mill workers
- Power plant employees
- Insulation installers
- Auto repair workers
Is occupational asbestos exposure something to worry about today?
Fortunately, most industrial job sites today use different kinds of insulation or require their employees to wear adequate protective gear when handling asbestos. However, if you work somewhere that handles asbestos or used to, it’s important to be proactive when it comes to your health.
Many industrial workplaces offer occupational health programs that can screen workers for symptoms of mesothelioma. Additionally, at-risk individuals should talk to their physicians about any potential exposures and remain watchful for any unusual changes in their health.
How quickly can mesothelioma spread?
Mesothelioma can spread fairly quickly and is considered an aggressive form of cancer. Numerous factors can affect how quickly mesothelioma progresses and the areas of the body to which it spreads, including:
- Cell type - Mesothelioma tumors can be made of epithelial or sarcomatoid cells. Tumors with epithelial cells usually spread more slowly than sarcomatoid cells, as they tend to adhere to each other. As a result, epithelial cells are less likely to spread throughout the body. If the tumors have a mix of both types of cells, the cancer is referred to as “biphasic mesothelioma.” How fast it spreads depends on the ratio of epithelial to sarcomatoid cells.
- Initial location - Mesothelioma can develop in various places within the body. The site where it originates can determine if and how fast it may spread. For example, if the cancer develops in the lungs, it’s more likely to spread to the lymph nodes, heart and diaphragm.
When to see a doctor about mesothelioma symptoms
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer and many of the symptoms patients experience are linked to other, more common conditions. Therefore, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you start to experience symptoms that are unusual and persistent, especially if you have ever been exposed to asbestos.
Moffitt Cancer Center’s approach to mesothelioma
Moffitt Cancer Center is home to the Mesothelioma Research and Treatment Center, one of the region’s only specialized mesothelioma programs. We welcome patients who believe they have symptoms of mesothelioma, patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma but want a second opinion and patients who are ready to seek treatment for a confirmed diagnosis. No referral is necessary to request an appointment with Moffitt. Simply call us at 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form.