Mesothelioma is cancer that develops in your mesothelium, the protective tissue that lines internal organs like the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs. The cancer usually starts in your lungs – in a condition known as pleural mesothelioma. But you may also have peritoneal mesothelioma, where the cancer occurs in your abdomen. In the United States, around 2000–3000 cases of pleural mesothelioma and 350–500 cases of peritoneal mesothelioma are observed annually. In rare cases, mesothelioma can also affect the reproductive organs or the heart.1
This cancer is almost always the result of exposure to asbestos, a material that was once commonly used in construction. Asbestos consists of microscopic fibers which can get stuck in your lungs and damage them over time. Though asbestos is no longer used in construction, new cases continue to come up because it can typically take over 20 years after exposure for mesothelioma to develop.2 3
In the early stages, both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma may not really cause many signs. You may only experience symptoms later when the cancer progresses to underlying tissues or results in fluid leaks into the cavity in your chest or belly.
The following signs may point toward pleural mesothelioma:
Shortness Of Breath
You may feel like you’re running out of air or can’t breathe deeply enough or fast enough. You may also feel an urgent need to inhale before completing an exhalation. And it may take effort to expel air when you exhale or expand your chest when you inhale.4
People with pleural mesothelioma may experience a persistent, dry cough.
Pain is a common symptom experienced by people with mesothelioma. It’s typically described as a dull ache or heaviness in the chest wall, arm, or shoulder. Some people say that it’s similar to what you experience when you pull a muscle. But though the pain due to mesothelioma can be generalized and dull. But, if the cancer has spread and it is pressing on other organs or bone, you may experience a stabbing, sharp pain. A sharp pain in your chest may also be caused by another serious medical condition which requires immediate medical attention – a blood clot in your lungs.5
High Temperature And Sweating
Sweating is a normal bodily function helping to regulate temperature. But people with mesothelioma can experience excessive sweating, especially at night and, to an extent that it hinders everyday life. It may be so extreme that your sheets and night clothes may get soaked and may need to be changed 2 or 3 times during the night. Sweating that occurs due to mesothelioma need not be due to fever. You may also experience a fever in some cases, though. If so, there’s a chance that you have an infection, so do seek medical attention.6
Feeling extremely tired and low in energy is common among people with mesothelioma. Not eating or sleeping properly, anxiety, chemotherapy, certain painkillers, and a lack of exercise can all contribute to this sense of tiredness.7
Appetite And Weight Loss
Sometimes, people with mesothelioma lose interest in eating and start losing weight even before the condition is diagnosed. This could be because of the cancer itself or due to symptoms like trouble swallowing, breathlessness etc. This symptom is also seen in people with peritoneal mesothelioma where symptoms like nausea or abdominal pain may cause a loss of appetite. Simple measures like eating smaller meals regularly, indulging your taste buds, having moist foods, and eating energy-dense foods like ice cream can be helpful.8
When you have clubbed fingers your fingertips get swollen. This happens in stages. First, your nail bed goes soft and the skin next to it becomes shiny. Then your nails become more curved than is normal – you might notice this when you look at them from the side. Finally, your fingertips may get swollen. Finger clubbing is thought to occur due to fluid collecting in the tissue at your fingertips. Other than mesothelioma, certain lung or heart conditions can also cause finger clubbing.9
If you have peritoneal mesothelioma you may experience symptoms like loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, and sweating which are also seen in pleural mesothelioma. Additionally, you’ll need to watch out for:
Pain In The Abdomen
Pain may manifest differently in different people with peritoneal mesothelioma. It has been variously described as an ache, discomfort, soreness, twinge, stabbing pain, bloating, or tightness.
Swelling In The Abdomen
Peritoneal mesothelioma can cause fluid to accumulate in your abdomen. This may result in increased pressure in your abdomen, leading to swelling and bloating.
Nausea And Vomiting
If you have peritoneal mesothelioma, fluid in your abdomen, as well as the tumor, can squash your stomach as well as other internal organs. This may make you feel nauseous. Other factors like constipation and medications such as those used during chemotherapy or for pain may also cause nausea and vomiting.10
Pressure caused by extra fluid or the tumor itself can disrupt the normal functioning of your bowels in peritoneal mesothelioma. You may experience constipation and, sometimes, a bowel obstruction if you have this condition. Having less fluids or roughage and even a lack of exercise can contribute to constipation.11
Just as peritoneal mesothelioma causes constipation by disrupting your bowel function, it may swing the other way and cause diarrhea. Diarrhea may also be caused by a parasite or an infection. Chemotherapy and certain medications may be responsible too in some cases. If you have diarrhea, take care to drink sufficient fluids like fruit juices and soups which contain salt and sugar so that you don’t get dehydrated.12
In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, the following signs may indicate advanced mesotheli. These may be experienced during later stages of both peritoneal and pleural mesothelioma:
You may experience weight loss that is unexplained and sudden.
If the cancer spreads to your brain or you have chemical imbalances, you may experience confusion.
As the disease takes a toll on your body you may feel fatigued.
If you have advanced pleural mesothelioma you may also experience problems with swallowing, spit up blood or mucus, or feel hoarse during the later stages.13
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer with a poor outlook. Although many of the symptoms mentioned here can be caused by other, less serious conditions, it is best to see a doctor and rule out the chances of mesothelia, particularly if you’ve been exposed to asbestos.
|↑1||Mesothelioma. University of Maryland.|
|↑2||Mesothelioma. National Health Service.|
|↑3||Mesothelioma. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|↑4||Shortness of Breath. Merck Manual.|
|↑5, ↑8||Treatment for symptoms. Cancer Council.|
|↑6||Sweating. Mesothelioma UK Charitable Trust.|
|↑7, ↑10||Peritoneal Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma UK Charitable Trust.|
|↑9||Finger clubbing. Cancer Research UK.|
|↑11, ↑12||Peritoneal Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma UK Charitable Trust.|
|↑13||Mesothelioma. Department of Health & Human Services.|