Mesothelioma typically has a long latency period, meaning that many years will pass between exposure to asbestos and the development of the disease. In fact, patients with mesothelioma typically do not manifest symptoms until several decades after the initial asbestos exposure. Because mesothelioma symptoms mimic those of less serious diseases, many patients who develop asbestos cancer are unaware of their potentially life-threatening condition.
Individuals with a history of asbestos exposure should schedule an appointment with their doctors to screen for asbestos-related diseases. Because mesothelioma does not present early symptoms, individuals who were in contact with asbestos should inform their doctor of their exposure. Patients who have a history of asbestos exposure but are not exhibiting symptoms should receive chest x-rays or lung function tests to screen for any indications of asbestos-related diseases.
The most common form of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma forms in the lining of the lungs. Common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include the following: persistent dry or raspy cough; trouble swallowing; cough that produces blood; painful breathing; shortness of breath; chest or rib pain; night sweats/fever; and unexplained weight loss. Fatigue and lumps under the skin of the chest have also been reported in patients with pleural mesothelioma. Many symptoms of pleural mesothelioma occur as a result of pleural thickening, which is caused by fluid buildup between membrane layers. Pleural thickening and fluid buildup can put pressure on the lungs, causing problems with respiratory function.
Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the abdomen and makes up approximately 30% of all mesothelioma cases. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma can include swelling or pain in the abdomen, nausea and vomiting and a change in bowel habits. Peritoneal mesothelioma can also cause night sweats, fever, unexplained weight loss, anemia, fatigue and lumps under the skin of the abdomen. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma develop due to the thickening of the peritoneal membrane and fluid buildup between the membrane layers. This can put pressure on the abdomen and its organs, causing the patient to experience symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma.
The least common form of mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma develops in the sac surrounding the heart. Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma include heart palpitations, chest pain, fatigue, trouble breathing, fever and night sweats. These symptoms are caused by fluid buildup and the thickening of the pericardial membrane. Because pericardial mesothelioma is rare, its list of symptoms is not as comprehensive as other forms of mesothelioma. Pericardial mesothelioma is often difficult to diagnose and typically has a poor prognosis.
Individuals experiencing symptoms of mesothelioma should seek medical attention immediately. Although mesothelioma shares symptoms with a number of less serious diseases, it’s important to receive a firm diagnosis as soon as possible. Although the overall prognosis for mesothelioma is poor, patients diagnosed in the earlier stages typically have a better outlook.