If you have been exposed to asbestos, either through your work, in a home, school, or office building, or through a spouse or parent who brought home asbestos fibers on work clothing, it pays to be vigilant for signs of asbestos diseases. The thin, spiky fibers of this toxic mineral can lodge in lung tissue and cause long-term irritation that may eventually lead to mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. It can take many years – often decades – for this irritation and inflammation to lead to mesothelioma symptoms.
While researchers search for a cure for mesothelioma, the best way to improve your life expectancy if you have this form of cancer is to catch it early, when surgery or chemotherapy have the best chance to slow the progress of the disease.
As we age, it can be harder to tell the difference between normal aches and pains and signs of something more serious. Understanding mesothelioma symptoms can help you decide when you should consult your doctor and ask for testing.
Although you may not have heard of it, the mesothelium is a membrane that serves a vital function in your body. This thin lining surrounds your abdominal organs, giving them a lubricated surface so they can move. The mesothelium also protects your heart, lungs, and reproductive organs.
Malignant mesothelioma is a rare cancer, caused by exposure to asbestos, that affects this membrane. Pleural mesothelioma, is cancer of the lining around the lungs. Pericardial mesothelioma affects the sac around the heart and peritoneal mesothelioma attacks the protective lining around the organs in the abdomen. Like many cancers, mesothelioma comes in a number of different forms. Asbestos exposure is the known cause of mesothelioma.
Recognizing Mesothelioma Symptoms
Mesothelioma symptoms may be hard to recognize because, taken individually, most symptoms could have a range of other, more mundane, causes. Here are some symptoms that might be a warning sign of mesothelioma as well as other types of cancer:
- Excessive tiredness without a clear cause
- Unexplained or sudden weight loss
The warning signs for each type of mesothelioma may be slightly different. Here are some signs that you should get checked for pleural mesothelioma, which affects your lungs:
- Chest or back pain
- Difficulty breathing, short of breath
- Persistent cough, wheeziness, or hoarseness
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swelling in the upper body, especially around the face or arms.
In addition, if your doctor notices that you have fluid around your lungs or a blood clot in one of the arteries that supplies blood to your lungs, you might want to get checked for pleural mesothelioma. If you are experiencing some of these mesothelioma symptoms, and especially if you have been exposed to asbestos, you may want to ask your doctor to check for mesothelioma.
For peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the lining around your abdominal organs, you may experience a somewhat different set of mesothelioma symptoms, including:
- Pain in the stomach or groin
- Swollen belly caused by excess fluid
- Difficult bowel movements or constipation
- Nausea that can’t be explained by other causes
Pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the lining around your heart, can look a lot like other heart problems. Symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing, especially when lying on your back
- Swelling in your abdomen
- Heart palpitations (fast, irregular heartbeat)
- Heart failure
In advanced cases of mesothelioma, you may notice some additional mesothelioma symptoms:
- Jaundice, which gives your skin and eyes a yellowish tinge
- Extreme and noticeable fluid retention or swelling
- Low blood sugar
If you have worked with or otherwise been exposed to asbestos, you should keep an eye on your health. If you are experiencing mesothelioma symptoms, your doctor has several tools to determine whether you are suffering from this cancer or if there is another reason you aren’t feeling up to par.
Your physician will probably start by checking your breathing and listening to your lungs. The next step may be X-rays to look for telltale signs of mesothelioma. Your doctor may want to do additional imagining such as a CT or CAT scan or an MRI. If these tests indicate that mesothelioma may be present, a tissue biopsy will be needed to make the final determination whether this rare cancer is the cause of your symptoms. In most cases, the biopsy can be done through minor, outpatient operation that requires a very small incision.
Early Detection to Help Fight Mesothelioma
No one wants to hear the bad news that they have cancer, least of all one as malicious as malignant mesothelioma. The only thing worse is not getting diagnosed. If you think you may be having mesothelioma symptoms, make sure your doctor knows your full work and medical history.
While there is no cure yet, there are treatments that can slow the growth and spread of mesothelioma, so you can have more time to spend with the people you love. If your doctor thinks you might have mesothelioma, early testing is your best chance to extend your life.