Asbestos cancer is often diagnosed very late. This happens because its symptoms are not specific to asbestos cancer and can be mistaken for something else. It is also very rare in the general population.
For asbestos cancer, suspicion of exposure is just as important as the actual symptoms of mesothelioma. So, if you or a loved one has the following symptoms, you should also consider when and how you were exposed. Then, talk to a doctor about your symptoms and possibility of exposure.
Like any other kind of cancer, asbestos cancer proceeds in stages. It is more difficult to detect in the early stages. Still, symptoms can arise that are clues. They can lead a doctor to run tests for asbestos cancer.
Almost all cases of mesothelioma start in the protective lining of the lungs. (This lining is called the mesothelium—that’s how the cancer gets its medical name.)
Patients in these stages often notice fatigue and/or shortness of breath. They might also have some chest pains. Others around them might notice that they are wheezing when breathing. Or they might have a cough that never seems to go away.
Note, however, that many other conditions cause these things as well. Allergies, asthma, COPD, flu, pneumonia, and even smoking can all lead to shortness of breath and fatigue. That said, it is never a bad idea to see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms, as they could indicate something serious.
Like other kinds of cancer, mesothelioma can begin to spread from the lining of the lungs and into other parts of the body. When this happens, new symptoms can arise, such as:
These symptoms, together with early-stage symptoms of mesothelioma and a suspicion of exposure, provide clearer evidence of advanced-stage mesothelioma.
Yes, there are different kinds of mesothelioma. The type of mesothelioma described above—the kind that occurs in the lining of the lungs—is called pleural mesothelioma. It accounts for roughly 3 out of every 4 cases of mesothelioma.
Sometimes, this cancer can spread and infect other parts of the body. Most typically, it will infect the abdominal lining, the sac or lining around the heart, or the testicles. Each type will come with different symptoms.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is a cancer that attacks the lining of the abdomen (belly). It accounts for 1 in every 4 (roughly 25%) of all asbestos cancers. Symptoms of this kind of cancer can include:
Pericardial mesothelioma is a cancer that infects the sac surrounding the heart. It is extremely rare: Only 200 or so cases have been reported. Still, it is a possible form of asbestos cancer, and can occur as a complication of pleural mesothelioma. Symptoms of this kind of cancer include:
As the name suggests, testicular mesothelioma infects the testicles—more specifically, the lining around the testicles. It is extremely rare, with only 100 or so reported cases. Symptoms of this kind of cancer include:
You (or your loved one) should see a doctor if you experience the above symptoms for any sustained length of time. Even if you do not have mesothelioma, these symptoms might be signs that something is wrong and needs treatment.
When you see your doctor, be sure to mention if you’ve ever been exposed (or think you have been exposed) to asbestos. This might prompt your doctor to do further tests to check for mesothelioma.
Misdiagnoses are common when it comes to asbestos cancer. These happen because the symptoms are not unique. It is hard to tell, just from the symptoms, whether mesothelioma is present. Again, your doctor can do further tests…but many doctors may not run those tests unless there is a clear reason for doing so (like known exposure).
The symptoms above are guidelines, and they vary from person to person. You (or your loved one) might experience one, several, or all of them. They can also come and go with time. If you have a concern, see your doctor.