Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Many of the early symptoms of mesothelioma are more likely to be caused by other conditions, so at first people may ignore them or mistake them for common, minor ailments. Most people with mesothelioma have symptoms for at least a few months before they are diagnosed.
You may not experience cancer symptoms for 20 to 50 years after your first exposure to asbestos. Once asbestos fibers reach the lining of pleura (lungs), peritoneum (abdomen) or pericardium (heart), and irritate the cells, the lining starts to thicken. As the cancer develops, the buildup of excess fluid may occur next. Over time, tumors form and place pressure on the organs. Pleural mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer, is by far the most common type of malignant mesothelioma.
Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma can include:
- Pain in the side of the chest or lower back
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive sweating
- Weight loss (without trying)
- Trouble swallowing (feeling like food gets stuck)
- Swelling of the face and arms
These symptoms can be caused by mesothelioma, but more often they are caused by other conditions. Still, if you have any of these problems (especially if you have been exposed to asbestos), it’s important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
There is no clear path to a mesothelioma diagnosis for every patient. Because the disease is so rare and has such common symptoms, doctors sometimes confuse it for a less-serious illness or a different type of cancer.
Pinpointing the disease involves several procedures, including X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, biopsies and PET scans. Each of these tests is performed by a different medical professional, and most people get their diagnosis within two or three months from the time they notice their symptoms.
Diagnosing the cancer in its earliest stages supports a wider range of treatment possibilities that could extend your life expectancy. So it’s important you start looking for a mesothelioma expert.
Can Malignant Mesothelioma Be Found Early?
Mesothelioma is uncommon, and there are no widely recommended screening tests for this cancer in people who are not at increased risk. (Screening is testing for cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms.)
For people with known exposure to asbestos, some doctors recommend imaging tests such as chest x-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans to look for changes in the lungs that might be signs of mesothelioma or lung cancer. But it is not clear how useful these tests are in finding mesotheliomas early.
In the last few years, doctors have found that people with mesothelioma typically have elevated levels of certain substances in their blood, including osteopontin and soluble mesothelin-related peptides (SMRPs). In the future, blood tests for these substances may be useful in detecting mesotheliomas early, as well as for monitoring the course of the disease.
Most mesotheliomas are found when a person goes to a doctor because of symptoms. People who have been exposed to asbestos should know the possible signs and symptoms of mesothelioma. Many of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by something other than mesothelioma, but it’s important to report any new symptoms to your doctor right away so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
Cancer specialists utilize a number of diagnostic tools to accurately confirm mesothelioma, including blood tests such as MESOMARK and SOMAmer panel, imaging tests such as MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, X-rays and biopsies to investigate cancerous growth in tissue samples.
Providing your doctor with a comprehensive work history can accelerate the diagnostic process. Because mesothelioma is a rare cancer with nonspecific symptoms, doctors are unlikely to suspect the disease unless you describe a former job where asbestos exposure may have occurred.
By explaining to your doctor that you worked in a high-risk industry, such as asbestos mining, construction or shipbuilding, you can back up concerns that your symptoms may be asbestos-related.