Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that is associated with asbestos exposure. It forms in the mesothelium, which is a type of membrane that lines organs in certain parts of the body. Different types of mesothelioma result in different symptoms, depending on where in the body mesothelioma develops.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
Dyspnea (shortness of breath).
Swelling of the face and/or arms
Hoarseness of the voice.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms
Pain in the chest or shoulder
Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
Irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations
Swelling of the legs
Testicular Mesothelioma Symptoms
General Symptoms of Mesothelioma
There are certain symptoms that commonly develop in the later stages of mesothelioma. These are also common in other types of cancer and are not specific to mesothelioma. These symptoms include:
Unexplained weight loss
Loss of appetite
Challenges in Evaluating Mesothelioma Symptoms
Because many of the symptoms and signs of mesothelioma are nonspecific, the process of mesothelioma diagnosis may be delayed, or may even result in a misdiagnosis.
For example, for peritoneal mesothelioma patients, it takes an average of four to six months between the onset of symptoms and the diagnosis. For rare types of mesothelioma, such as pericardial mesothelioma, it’s not uncommon for the diagnosis to be made after the patient’s death. Imaging studies, a biopsy and sometimes blood tests are needed to determine that mesothelioma is the cause of the patient’s symptoms.
Early detection of mesothelioma leads to better outcomes, because when mesothelioma is diagnosed at an early stage, there are more treatment options. Patients who have risk factors for this cancer (such as a history of asbestos exposure) should be vigilant in watching for possible mesothelioma signs and should mention these to their doctor as soon as possible. This increases the likelihood that diagnosis will be made at an early stage.
Side Effects of Mesothelioma Treatment
Besides the symptoms created by the cancer itself, mesothelioma patients may also have side effects related to their treatments. For some patients, the treatment plan is intended to eliminate as much of the cancer as possible in order to extend their lives. Many of the treatments that are used to do this have significant side effects, some of which are similar to symptoms caused by the cancer itself.
For example, the chemotherapy agents commonly used for mesothelioma cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, anemia and pain. They can also cause other side effects such as hair loss, muscle weakness, hearing loss and immune system damage (leading to frequent infections).
Managing Mesothelioma Symptoms
A variety of treatments may be used to manage the symptoms of mesothelioma, such as:
Procedures to drain excess fluid from the chest or abdomen can be helpful in relieving symptoms. In some cases, palliative surgery may be performed to remove a tumor that’s creating significant symptoms, without the intent to remove all of the cancer.
Chemotherapy or radiation therapy
It’s important to discuss everything that you’re doing with your mesothelioma treatment team to ensure that it won’t interfere with your conventional medical treatment.
However, oncology experts generally encourage the use of complementary therapies like these to help patients with symptom control.
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