One thing to consider is that early symptoms of mesothelioma can be mis-diagnosed. Part of this reason is that many of the symptoms are similar to pneumonia, including shortness of breath, persistent cough and chest pain.
Mesothelioma develops at a slow rate, making it difficult for people to know when they have it. The first symptoms of mesothelioma are often shortness of breath, chest pain, fever, cough, nausea, pain in abdomen, or anemia. All of these symptoms are also caused by less serious illnesses, which makes it difficult to recognize the disease in its early stages. If you have worked with or been exposed to asbestos you should get screened, even if you do not feel sick.
Mesothelioma is more treatable when diagnosed early.
Common Malignant Mesothelioma Symptoms
Patients often experience symptoms for 4-6 months before the diagnosis is made.
The most common symptoms are the following:
Recent onset of shortness of breath (31%)
Recent increase in shortness of breath (30%)
Chest pain (43%)
Other symptoms include the following:
Weight loss (23%)
Increased sputum production (18%)
The most common findings on physical examination (79%) are signs of pleural effusion (eg, dullness to percussion or decreased breath sounds).
Patients with peritoneal involvement experience symptoms as follows:
Abdominal pain (60%)
The most common signs of peritoneal mesothelioma include the following:
Abdominal distention (56%)
Weight loss (38%)
Abdominal mass (11%)
Frequency of Mesothelioma
In the US: Annual incidence of mesothelioma is 7-13 per 1,000,000 male patients with a history of asbestos exposure. Approximately 1 in 1,000,000 North American patients with no asbestos exposure present with mesothelioma per year. The incidence of mesothelioma is lower in women than in men, probably because fewer women than men worked outside the home in the mid-20th century; therefore, they were exposed less to asbestos.
The incidence of mesothelioma is highest in the Pacific and mid-Atlantic states and may be related to the location of industries such as shipyards.
Internationally: The incidence of mesothelioma in women is 2/1,000,000/year and in men is 10-30/1,000,000/year in industrialized countries where asbestos was used widely. The incidence of mesothelioma varies greatly among nations and is difficult to document in countries without mesothelioma registries. In France, an estimated 950 new patients are seen per year. In the United Kingdom (where a mesothelioma registry exists), incidence is expected to peak in the year 2020 at 2700 deaths per year and is expected to decline rapidly thereafter.
Mortality / Morbidity of Malignant Mesothelioma
Malignant mesothelioma usually is fatal. Death usually occurs within 18 months of first onset of symptoms. Mesothelioma usually presents 30-40 years after asbestos exposure.
Source: (Cancer 1986 Oct 1; 58(7): 1540-51)
Symptoms for Pleural Mesothelioma (involving the lung / chest area) are:
- chest pain and pain in the lower back
- difficulty breathing
- weight loss
- muscle weakness and sensory loss
- swelling of the face and arms
- coughing up blood
Symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma (involving the abdominal / stomach cavity, liver, spleen or the bowel) are:
- abdominal bloating due to fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity
- nausea & vomiting
- swelling of the feet
- impaired bowel function.
Pericardial Mesothelioma symptoms - The most infrequent form of this rare asbestos-linked cancer, individuals with pericardial mesothelioma have cancerous growths in tissues surrounding the heart. The early symptoms indicating pericardial mesothelioma include:
- chest pain
Dyspnea is defined as abnormal or uncomfortable breathing in the context of what is normal for a person according to his or her level of fitness and exertional threshold for breathlessness.
Unfortunately, the early mesothelioma symptoms are often ignored or mistaken for minor ailments because they are not specific to the disease.
Therefore, it is critical to investigate one's exposure to asbestos. While pain in the lower back or at the side of the chest, shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, cough, fever, sweating, fatigue and weight loss may be common to many minor ailments, it is the knowledge that these mesothelioma symptoms are present in a person with a high likelihood of asbestos exposure that should raise a red flag.
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