On average, mesothelioma patients aren’t diagnosed until several months after they begin exhibiting symptoms of the disease.
The first few months of their illness are typically asymptomatic. Furthermore, these symptoms are vague and mild, making it challenging to diagnose mesothelioma in its earlier stages. Most patients are not diagnosed until their illness has progressed to stage III or IV.
Presenting Symptoms of Mesothelioma
The earliest symptoms of pleural mesothelioma typically affect the respiratory system. These symptoms can include:
- Coughing (occasionally with blood in the sputum)
- Shortness of breath (even while at rest)
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
Because these symptoms are the first that a mesothelioma patient develops – and thereby discusses on their first visit to their doctor – they are known as presenting symptoms.
Unfortunately, the presenting symptoms for pleural mesothelioma are also the presenting symptoms for other, less serious diseases such as pneumonia or the flu. Doctors who are unaware that the patient was once exposed to asbestos may misdiagnose these early onset symptoms as symptoms of a non-asbestos-related disease.
To make it less of a challenge for an oncologist to link these symptoms to mesothelioma, be sure to explain your history of asbestos exposure at your first visit.
While determining if these symptoms are indicative of mesothelioma, the doctor may ask you to recall when you were first exposed to asbestos. This gives the doctor a timeline to work with to determine if the illness is likely to be asbestos-related. Mesothelioma typically takes 20 to 50 years to develop from the time of first exposure; if you fall into this range, the doctor will understand the higher risk and recommend testing for mesothelioma.
Simply presenting with early onset symptoms alone may not be enough to arrive at an official diagnosis. A general practitioner will often order imaging scans (X-rays, CT scans, MRIs) to determine the origin of these symptoms. If the scans show that the symptoms are caused by an abnormal growth on the lungs, a biopsy can be taken to conclusively identify the tumors as mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Symptoms that Develop Later
Throughout the disease’s progression, several other symptoms often arise as the cancer spreads throughout the body. These late-onset symptoms include:
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Pain that spreads across the body
- Night sweats and/or fever
- Protrusions in the chest or rib area
These symptoms can be indicative of late-stage mesothelioma. If you have been exposed to asbestos and are experiencing some or all of these symptoms, immediately contact an oncologist who is familiar with diagnosing asbestos-related diseases.
Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care.