Mesothelioma is a very rare form of cancer that arises in the mesothelial cells of different organs, usually the lungs and less commonly in the heart and the abdominal cavity. The symptoms that may occur depend essentially on the site of development of the mesothelioma cancer. Since the cancerous cells grow from the lining of the organs into the organs’ tissues, the function of that organ is affected first. In later stages of the disease, the symptoms are more generalized as the disease spreads to several parts of the body (metastasis).
The pleura refer to the cell lining of the lungs. In simple terms, the pleura is a sac that protects the lungs from external shocks and from friction with other organs. It also secretes a vital fluid that lubricates the lung movements preventing damage to the lung surface. Pleural mesothelioma refers to the development of cancerous cells in the pleura. When pleural mesothelioma begins, a series of small white nodules appear on the surface of the pleura. These coalesce to form a crust that compresses the lungs. It also spreads outwardly into the chest wall and ribs.
However, the early symptoms of the disease are not serious enough to cause alarm which delays diagnosis, resulting in aggravated circumstances. Inflammation of the lungs both by the presence of the cancer cells and their causative agents (e.g. asbestos fibers) result in the increased production of fluids by the pleura. This is known as pleural effusion. Excess fluid in the lungs result in symptoms such as:
* Shortness of breath
There may also be chest pain due to the increased pressure on the diaphragm and the lungs as a result of pleural effusion and the constriction of the tissues by the cancerous cells.
The presence of cancerous cells in the peritoneum (the lining surrounding the abdomen and the stomach) may have diverse consequences depending on the location of the tumors. The most common symptoms are:
* Unexplained weight loss
* Increased abdominal girth
* Distention of the abdomen
* Presence of fluid in the abdomen
* Weight loss
* Loss of appetite
* Bowel obstruction
In the later stages of the disease, the blood platelet count rises significantly resulting in greater blood clotting.
With the development of cancer in the pericardium (the cell lining around the heart), the symptoms are very similar to other heart conditions, making pericardial mesothelioma difficult to diagnose. Most symptoms arise because of an accumulation of fluid in the pericardium resulting in:
* Chest pain
* Difficulty in breathing
As it can be seen, in all three cases of mesothelioma, the symptoms are very non-specific. In other words, the disease does not have a specific symptom of its own. Most of its symptoms can be confounded with the symptoms of other diseases (including some relatively common ailments such as influenza in the case of pleural mesothelioma). Hence, mesothelioma diagnosis is quite difficult.