Mesothelioma Overview: Symptoms, Treatment & Causes

Mesothelioma Overview: Symptoms, Treatment & Causes Mesothelioma is a cancer that develops in the thin tissue that lines certain internal organs. This thin tissue is called the mesothelium. The most common type of mesothelioma is called pleural mesothelioma, and it affects the lining of the lungs.

What Is Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops in the thin protective lining (mesothelium) around the lungs, abdomen, heart or testes. Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer. As this rare cancer progresses, mesothelial tumors can spread or metastasize to the lining of other organs and lymph nodes.

Doctors classify mesothelioma based on where it forms on the mesothelium throughout the body. Symptoms, treatment and prognosis depend on where the cancer develops.

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Common symptoms of mesothelioma are dry cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss. The location of cancer determines which symptoms develop and how severe they can become.

Respiratory symptoms of pleural mesothelioma primarily affect the lungs and chest cavity. These can include a painful and dry cough, wheezing and chest pain. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma develop in and around your abdomen and include abdominal swelling, nausea, distension and pain.

Pericardial mesothelioma may cause unique symptoms such as heart palpitations and murmurs. Symptoms of testicular mesothelioma include testicular swelling and pain.

Top 10 Most Common Mesothelioma Symptoms

Abdominal pain

Abnormal lumps

Chest pain


Fever and sweating

Fluid buildup

Loss of appetite

Muscle weakness


Unexplained weight loss

Fatigue, weight loss and fever commonly occur in other cancers. Mesothelioma misdiagnosis is frequent because its symptoms can resemble other cancers and illnesses.

Talk to your doctor if you have been exposed to asbestos in the past and are experiencing these symptoms. Early diagnosis of any disease often leads to a better prognosis and longer life expectancy.

What Causes Malignant Mesothelioma?

Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma. Repeated exposure to asbestos-contaminated products, such as talc and older construction materials, increases the risk of developing mesothelioma.

Asbestos fibers get stuck in tissues that line and protect vital organs. Over decades, the fibers cause irritation and DNA damage. This damage turns normal cells into cancer cells, which develop into mesothelioma tumors. An average of 20 to 60 years passes between the first asbestos exposure and the development of symptoms, which is called the mesothelioma latency period.

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common kind. It forms when someone breathes in asbestos fibers, and they stick to the protective lining of the lungs (pleura). Peritoneal mesothelioma can develop in your abdominal lining if you breathe in or swallow asbestos fibers.

Occupational asbestos exposure is the No. 1 cause of mesothelioma.

Construction workers, industrial workers, firefighters, military veterans and those in similar occupations may have been exposed to asbestos. Work sites, such as factories and construction areas, are the most common sources of exposure. Historically, companies used asbestos in older buildings because of its low cost, resiliency, and resistance to heat and electricity. Asbestos is still present in many older building materials and consumer products.

Military veterans are also at risk of developing mesothelioma because asbestos was used extensively on Navy ships, military bases, barracks and other military locations and machinery.

If you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos long ago, monitoring for signs of disease with X-rays and other tests can help catch mesothelioma cancer early. Tell your doctor about your exposure and ask how frequently you should be tested.


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