Symptoms of mesothelioma

Mesothelioma may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages. Symptoms appear once the tumour grows into surrounding tissues and organs or fluid builds up around the lung (pleural effusion) or in the abdomen (ascites). Most people with mesothelioma have advanced or widespread disease at the time of diagnosis.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, it’s important to know the symptoms of mesothelioma. Exposure to asbestos is the most important risk factor for mesothelioma. But often the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma do not show up for 20 to 60 years after asbestos exposure.

The signs and symptoms of mesothelioma may vary depending on the location of the tumour. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as mesothelioma.

Pleural mesothelioma

The signs and symptoms of mesothelioma of the lung (pleural mesothelioma) include:

  • aching or pain in the chest or lower back
  • cough
  • shortness of breath (may be caused by pleural effusion)
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • fever
  • sweating
  • problems swallowing, feeling like food is getting stuck in the throat
  • swelling of the face and arms
  • hoarseness

Peritoneal mesothelioma

The signs and symptoms of mesothelioma in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma) include:

  • pain in the abdomen
  • swelling of the abdomen (may be caused by ascites)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • constipation
  • weight loss
  • blockage of the small intestine or colon

In some cases, mesothelioma or its treatment can cause serious problems. These cancer-related emergencies need to be treated right away:

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Malignant Mesothelioma. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2010.
  • Mesothelioma. Cancer Research UK. CancerHelp UK. Cancer Research UK; 2010.
  • Jahan TM, Dubey S, Speight JL, et al . Mesothelioma. Ko, A. H., Dollinger, M., & Rosenbaum, E. Everyone's Guide to Cancer Therapy: How Cancer is Diagnosed, Treated and Managed Day to Day. 5th ed. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing; 2008: pp. 726-733.
  • Mesothelioma. Macmillan Cancer Support. Macmillan Cancer Support. London, UK: Macmillan Cancer Support; 2010.
  • Munkholm-Larsen S, Cao CQ, Yan TD . Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery. Baishideng Publishing Group; 2009.
  • National Cancer Institute. Malignant Mesothelioma Treatment (PDQ®) Patient Version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2011.
  • Pass HI, Vogelzang NT, Hahn SM, et al . Benign and malignant mesothelioma. Devita, V. T., Jr., Lawrence, T. S., & Rosenberg, S. A. Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 8th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2008: 46.2: 1835-1862.
  • Raja S, Murthy SC, Mason DP . Malignant pleural mesothelioma. Current Oncology Reports. Current Medicine Group LLC; 2011.
  • Ray M, and Kindler HL . Malignant pleural mesothelioma: an update on biomarkers and treatment. Chest. American College of Chest Physicians; 2009.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

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