To date, there is no cure for mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. However, significant advancements in science are being made every day. An early mesothelioma diagnosis can afford you with better options for treatment and life expectancy. Consequently it is important to understand mesothelioma symptoms at the beginning of the disease.
Mesothelioma has a long latency period, the time between asbestos exposure and diagnosis, anywhere between 15 to 50 years. Consequently, mesothelioma symptoms do not appear until the later stages of development and, even then, can be easily mistaken for other, less serious illnesses.
In this case, the key to early detection is to remain as knowledgeable and proactive as possible— especially if you suspect, or know, that you have been exposed to asbestos in the past. Educate yourself on mesothelioma symptoms and risks; stay in regular communication with your doctor about your concerns. Remaining vigilant about your health will improve your chances of making an early diagnosis and, hopefully, a better prognosis.
As mentioned, mesothelioma symptoms are difficult to recognize. That’s because the early signs are similar to a host of other common, minor ailments. The most typical early signs and symptoms can be associated with the three main types of mesothelioma:
Pleural Mesothelioma: Occurs in the membranes around the lung and lining the inside of the ribs. Early pleural mesothelioma symptoms may include:
- Coughing up blood (known as “hemoptysis”)
- Pain in the side of the chest or lower back
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive sweating
- Unexpected weight loss
- Trouble swallowing
- Swelling of the face and arms
Peritoneal Mesothelioma: Occurs in the membranes lining the abdominal cavity and internal organs. Early peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms can include:
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Unexpected weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
Pericardial Mesothelioma: Occurs in the membrane covering the heart. Early pericardial mesothelioma symptoms may include:
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Heart murmur
- Difficulty breathing (“dyspnea”)
Many of these early signs can easily be related to other conditions such as asthma, acid reflux, congestive heart failure or pneumonia. Nevertheless, if you feel you are at risk, or have been exposed to asbestos, it’s best to discuss these symptoms with your primary physician or specialist right away and make sure to mention your history of asbestos exposure.
Risk Factors and Causes of Mesothelioma
As they say, knowledge is power. Staying in tune with your body and your health is one good step toward catching mesothelioma symptoms in the early stages. You may also want to develop a keen understanding of the risk factors inherent to this disease.
Have You Been Exposed to Asbestos?
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. When asbestos is introduced into the system, through inhalation or ingestion, it attacks the mesothelium, a thin layer of mesothelial cells surrounding the lungs, stomach and other organs. It is this attack— the DNA alteration of the mesothelium— that leads to mesothelioma.
Despite United States regulations prohibiting the release of asbestos fibers into the environment, many companies and manufacturers still do. Individuals who are most at risk include construction workers, military personnel, and anyone who works or lives in older buildings that may contain asbestos. Even family members are at risk if they make contact with any residual asbestos substance that has unknowingly clung to another person’s work clothes, hair, or car or home interiors.
Seek Medical Assistance
Thinking about mesothelioma, and the possibility of a diagnosis, can be frightening. Many of us choose to ignore the concerns that bubble up from time to time and, instead, push them into the back of our minds.
But you’ve come this far. You’ve taken this vital step to educate yourself about mesothelioma symptoms and the risks for having them.
The next critical step is to communicate with your doctor. The more frequently and clearly you communicate with your primary-care physician or specialist, the better your chances will be to receive optimal care.
How to Best Communicate With Your Physician
When it comes to mesothelioma, there is no such thing as asking too many questions. So don’t be shy. Learning as much as you can, and asking questions can soothe your anxieties and mitigate your fears. Come into your appointment with a notepad and a list of questions; feel free to continue asking more as they come to mind.
Another good idea is to bring someone, a close friend or relative, to your doctor appointments. Sometimes it is difficult to comprehend, record and remember everything at the same time. A second set of eyes and ears can help you more fully appreciate your doctor’s words long after you’ve left the office.
Come to your doctor’s office prepared with a list of information and questions including:
Your medical and employment history
- Prepare a list of your symptoms.
- List all the medication you are currently taking.
- Prepare to briefly explain your asbestos exposure history.
Questions about mesothelioma and mesothelioma symptoms
- Ask questions about the tests you are taking: What will they involve? Who will be performing them? What will they reveal? Will you need more tests to solidify or clarify your diagnosis?
- Ask about the treatments available and if they are the best option. Are there any new or experimental treatments for mesothelioma?
- Ask about the medications you will be taking: What are the side effects? How will they react with other medications? How long will it take to see results?
Questions about your physician
- Ask if your physician has treated mesothelioma before? If so, how often?
- Ask if there are other physicians that you’ll need to visit, and if your doctor can provide referrals.
- Should I look for a second opinion about my illness?
As the saying goes: “The best defense is a good offense.” Arming yourself with a full education about mesothelioma symptoms, asbestos exposure risks and a direct pipeline to your health care providers are the best methods you have for early detection.
If you think you may have been exposed to asbestos and are experiencing symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss next steps.