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Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma usually begins with seemingly harmless symptoms that include a cough or mild pain in the chest. But for most asbestos-cancer patients, these small symptoms are the beginning of a bigger disease.

For many patients, the warning signs begin to show about 15 to 50 years after the initial asbestos exposure. The disease is slow to progress, but the first symptoms typically mean the disease has taken hold.

Patients who suspect they have been exposed to asbestos should seek immediate medical attention. It is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of each variety of the disease. Even though the disease progresses slowly, early medical intervention is the key to survival.

Common Signs of Asbestos Cancer

Pleural mesothelioma begins when asbestos fibers are inhaled. In some cases, the fibers stay in the lungs and in other cases they hop through the body using the lymph nodes. This variety, which is the most common type of mesothelioma, damages the respiratory system, attacking the lungs and airways. The initial symptoms of the disease imitate less-serious conditions including the flu, bronchitis and pneumonia:

  • Raspy breathing sounds
  • Chest pains
  • Wheezing cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Painful breathing
  • Fluids in the chest cavity

In 2011, researchers found that most pleural mesothelioma patients report similar symptoms in the early stages:

  • 90 percent experience excess fluid around the lungs
  • 79 percent have difficulty breathing
  • 64 percent have pains in the chest area
  • 36 percent suffer with a ongoing and deep cough
  • 30 percent have unexplained weight loss

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Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs when the cancer attacks the lining surrounding the peritoneum or the abdominal cavity. The first sign of this disease is abdominal distension, or swelling. This is caused by ascites, which is a fluid accumulation between the layers of the peritoneum. Studies show that up to 77 percent of of these patients develop ascites. Even with that, this disease is often misdiagnosed in the early stages.

In addition, up to 69 percent of peritoneal asbestos-cancer patients experience weight loss and loss of appetite in the early disease stages. By the later stages of peritoneal mesothelioma, many patients may develop bowel obstructions and mild seizures.

Rare Forms of the Disease

Pericardial mesothelioma is considered a rare form of asbestos cancer because it injures only a few hundred patients a year, if that many. It strikes the pericardium, or the protective tissue around the heart. It is difficult to treat because any treatment could cause severe damage to the heart. Clinical symptoms mimic heart disorders:

  • Chest pains
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Severe cough
  • Labored breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Heart murmurs

Other rare forms of the disease include testicular mesothelioma, which forms in the membrane that surrounds the male reproductive organs. Because the disease is so rare, there is no standard set of symptoms this variety of asbestos cancer. However, patients who have developed the disease have symptoms that include unexplained testicular lumps and swelling.


1.Nilsson, A., et al. “Primary Pericardial Mesothelioma: Report of a Patient and Literature Review.” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2918860/?tool=pmcentre

2.Yen, Ching-Heng, et al. “Malignant mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis testis: a malignancy associated with recurrent epididymitis?” World Journal of Surgical Oncology. Retrieved from http://www.wjso.com/content/10/1/238