Cancer in any form can be very deadly. But if you develop mesothelioma, you’re living with one of the most aggressive and deadliest types of cancer¹. Mesothelioma often goes unnoticed for many years, and it’s typically diagnosed only once the disease is advanced. With a five-year survival rate of just 5 to 10 percent, you need to know the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma². You can search online to discover what mesothelioma can look like.
Identifying the symptoms of mesothelioma is the first step in getting a diagnosis. While curing this aggressive cancer isn’t always possible, you can seek out treatments to slow its progression. But you have to search online and learn more about mesothelioma and its symptoms in order to catch it as early as possible.
Discover what signs and symptoms you can look out for below.
How Mesothelioma Occurs
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that forms in the mesothelium, or the membrane that lines many of the body’s internal cavities³. This cancer can form in the abdomen, chest, around the heart, and other areas throughout the body. Most cases begin in the chest cavity.
As mesothelioma grows and progresses, it does so aggressively and quickly. Cancerous cells that form in the mesothelium can spread to nearby tissues and cause damage. They can metastasize, spreading into other areas of the body and your organs.
This type of cancer most commonly occurs in people who’ve been exposed to asbestos. Anyone who’s worked with asbestos or in environments where asbestos are present may be at risk of developing mesothelioma. Asbestos is a category of minerals that have thin, microscopic fibers – and those fibers are dangerous when swallowed or inhaled. As many as 75 percent of all mesothelioma cases are linked to asbestos exposure⁴.
However, asbestos isn’t the only cause of mesothelioma. There are other, less common possible causes like⁵:
- Exposure to zeolites, a mineral that’s chemically related to asbestos.
- High doses of radiation, particularly radiation that’s centered on the chest or abdomen.
- The SV40 virus.
- A genetic predisposition for mesothelioma.
You can discuss your potential risk for mesothelioma by talking with your doctor.
Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma
It can be difficult to notice the first signs and symptoms of mesothelioma. Most commonly, mesothelioma isn’t detected until it becomes advanced.
Symptoms can also vary depending on where your cancer is present. There are two common types of mesothelioma, and their symptoms are quite different.
Pleural mesothelioma occurs in the tissues around the lungs, and it can cause symptoms like⁶:
- Chest pain.
- Shortness of breath.
- Coughing, particularly painful coughing.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- The appearance of unusual lumps underneath the skin of your chest.
Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs in the tissue within the abdomen, and it can cause symptoms that include⁷:
- Pain in your abdominal area.
- Swelling in the abdomen.
- Unexplained weight loss.
There are other, less common types of mesothelioma as well, and they can cause very different symptoms. However, it’s unknown and unclear what the most common signs and symptoms of these rarer forms are – because they are so rare, little is known.
It’s important to keep in mind that the symptoms of mesothelioma can look like symptoms of other health conditions. Abdominal pain, coughing, nausea, and shortness of breath can accompany many different types of ailments and illnesses. So, if you notice any changes to your health, the safest action is to see a doctor.
How Mesothelioma is Diagnosed
There are a number of diagnostic tests doctors can perform to officially diagnose mesothelioma. These tests can help doctors rule out other health conditions and offer more specifics about what’s happening inside your body.
Diagnostic tests can help doctors both find cancer and determine whether it has spread to other areas of the body. For mesothelioma, tests can include any combination of the following diagnostic methods⁸:
- A physical examination with your doctor.
- Blood tests.
- Testing any fluid present in the lungs or abdomen.
- Lung function tests, like evaluating how much air your lungs can hold and how air moves in and out of your lungs.
- A CT or CAT scan, which provides internal imaging.
- A PET scan, which is typically used along with a CT scan.
- A biopsy, or the removal of a small amount of tissue.
Once you’ve undergone these tests, your doctor will be able to determine the following⁹:
- The type of cancer (if cancer is present).
- Where the cancer is located.
- The stage of the cancer.
- Your general health.
Talk to Your Doctor About Your Risk for Mesothelioma
Could you be at risk for mesothelioma? The only way to know for sure is to examine your lifestyle, health history, and work history. You should speak with your doctor to assess your potential risk level and determine if you have any risk factors for mesothelioma present in your background.
There are a few ways you can work to reduce your risk. While these actions may not prevent mesothelioma entirely, they can make you less likely to develop this form of cancer.
First, try to reduce your exposure to asbestos. You should find out whether you work with asbestos in your career or current profession. It’s common for individuals who work as asbestos miners, electricians, plumbers, shipyard staff, demolition professionals, and even home remodelers to be exposed to asbestos. Ask your employer or manager if there’s a risk of asbestos exposure in your work environment. Try to find out if you’ll be working in places where asbestos may be present.
Additionally, you should follow your workplace safety regulations. Whether you work in a role that causes frequent asbestos exposure or aren’t sure when or if you might encounter asbestos, following safety precautions can protect you. Wearing protective equipment, changing out of your work clothes on breaks or at the end of the day, and other small steps like these can help.
Lastly, consider the asbestos that might be present in your home. If your home or living space might contain asbestos, you can consult experts who detect asbestos, test the air, and remove asbestos. This can help you live healthier and lower your risk of mesothelioma.
You can also discuss your risk level with your doctor. If you’re worried about mesothelioma, talk to your doctor about your risks, your lifestyle, and steps you might take to keep yourself healthy.