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Mesothelioma Symptoms: How to Recognize Mesothelioma

By Dr. Alan Goldberg and Christopher M. Placitella, Esq.

Is your cough a symptom of a much deeper problem? If you have a history of asbestos exposure, that tight feeling in your chest could indicate malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Recognizing mesothelioma symptoms is the first step to getting a diagnosis, treatment, and potential financial compensation. Read this mesothelioma guide to better understand common symptoms, your cancer treatment options, and the steps you can take after diagnosis to impose liability on responsible parties.

Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is malignant cancer that aggressively attacks the mesothelium, a layer of tissue surrounding most internal organs. Mesothelioma cancer can affect different parts of the body, and each type has different signs and symptoms.

Parts of the Body That Mesothelioma Occurs In

Doctors classify types of mesothelioma by the part of the body they affect. The most common type, pleural mesothelioma, occurs in the tissue around the lungs.

Rarer types of mesothelioma may affect other body parts including the following:

  • Abdominal tissue (peritoneal mesothelioma)
  • The area surrounding the heart (pericardial mesothelioma)
  • Tissue near the testicles (testicular mesothelioma)

Earliest Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms and pericardial mesothelioma symptoms most commonly include the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lumps under the skin of the chest
  • Weight loss

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms may look like these:

  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss

Testicular mesothelioma presents as swelling or lumps around the testicles.

Mesothelioma is a rare disease, and any of these could be a common symptom in other conditions as well. However, if you notice these persistent signs, especially after exposure to asbestos fiber, you should notify your doctor about your condition as soon as possible.

Differences between Mesothelioma and Other Lung Diseases

Mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other lung diseases often have several overlapping symptoms, such as coughing and chest pain. Diagnosis and treatment plans are also similar for diseases that affect the lungs. However, mesothelioma and lung cancer have different risk factors and characteristics.

First, one common cause of lung cancer is smoking. However, although smoking can aggravate mesothelioma symptoms, it generally doesn’t cause mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by inhaling or swallowing asbestos fibers.

Second, lung cancer develops inside of the lungs in large masses that can spread to other organs. In contrast, mesothelioma forms in small nodules in the lining of the lungs. It generally does not spread far beyond its point of origin until the later stages of the disease.

When Do Mesothelioma Symptoms Appear?

If you have experienced asbestos exposure, you may be on high alert for concerning symptoms. However, due to the nature of the disease, you may need to stay diligent for longer than you might expect.

Latency Period in Mesothelioma Cases

A latency period is a time between exposure to a carcinogen, like asbestos, and the onset of symptoms. Essentially, it is a period of development during which a disease lies dormant.

For mesothelioma, the latency period could be anywhere from twenty to sixty years. According to Cancer Research UK, the median latency period is 22.8 years, with females experiencing a 29 percent longer latency. It is extremely rare for mesothelioma’s latency period to last fewer than fifteen years. Greater exposure to asbestos does not lead to shorter latency periods.

Speed of Diagnosis in Typical Mesothelioma Cases According to the National Library of Medicine, doctors diagnose about 3,200 cases of mesothelioma every year in the United States. Compared to other cancer types, mesothelioma is rare—which may mean it takes longer to get a diagnosis.

The sooner you get a diagnosis, the better your prognosis. There are more mesothelioma treatment options and better survival rates for a patient who catches the disease early.

How Long It Takes Mesothelioma Symptoms to Appear

Mesothelioma is slow growing. The first symptoms will appear at the end of the latency period, generally several decades after the exposure. After symptoms appear, the disease progresses quickly, especially in comparison to other cancer symptoms. Pleural, testicular, and pericardial mesothelioma symptoms all appear after this long latency period.

Doctors use four stages to describe the progression of malignant pleural mesothelioma. Symptoms worsen as a patient progresses through the stages. While the development of new symptoms is impossible to predict, the average life expectancy at each stage shows how quickly mesothelioma spreads:

  • Stage One: 22 months
  • Stage Two: 20 months
  • Stage Three: 18 months
  • Stage four: 15 months

Factors That Impact Mesothelioma Symptoms

When it comes to a rare disease like mesothelioma, multiple factors need to come together for the disease to develop. Understanding the source of mesothelioma symptoms and causes can help you better manage your risk factors.

How the Latency Period Impacts Mesothelioma Symptoms

The long latency period of mesothelioma makes it difficult to catch the early stages of the disease. Because of this, most patients receive diagnosis in later stages, which impacts treatment options.

Jobs Associated with Mesothelioma Risk

The main risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with heat-resistant properties that make its fibers useful in many applications. The most common places you’ll find asbestos include insulation, vehicle brakes, flooring, and roofing. The following careers may put you at a higher risk of inhaling or swallowing asbestos dust at work:

  • Asbestos workers and miners
  • Insulators
  • Shipyard workers
  • Demolition workers
  • Brake mechanics
  • Electricians
  • Home remodelers
  • Plumbers

You can ask your employer about your asbestos risk. Or if you’re unionized, you can also easily find out through your union whether your industry exposes you to asbestos.

Your location may also impact your mesothelioma risk. For instance, rates of mesothelioma are much higher near an asbestos factory that operated in New Jersey until the 1980s. Simply living or working near places like this increase your asbestos exposure.

Role of Genetics in Mesothelioma Occurrences

While asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor for mesothelioma, developing the disease even after exposure is rare. This indicates that some individuals may have a genetic predisposition for this type of cancer. In fact, a family history of mesothelioma increases your risk for the disease.

What to Do If You Experience Symptoms of Mesothelioma

If you notice concerning signs and symptoms, don’t delay seeing a doctor. After diagnosis, there are more actions you can take to improve your life expectancy and your quality of life.

How Mesothelioma Is Diagnosed Mesothelioma diagnosis begins with imaging tests. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may suggest a chest x-ray, CT scan, echocardiogram, PET scan, MRI, or a combination of several imaging tests. Scans like these can identify issues like the thickening of the pleura. They also show the stage and spread of the disease.

Even if imaging tests confirm a doctor’s suspicions, an official diagnosis requires a biopsy. This involves a doctor collecting a fluid or tissue sample and testing it in a lab. Mesothelioma can look similar to other cancer types under the microscope, so technicians may perform specialized tests to confirm a diagnosis. A biopsy also allows doctors to identify the type of mesothelioma based on the structure of the cancer cells.

How Mesothelioma Is Treated

Mesothelioma treatments vary by stage. At stage one, you may begin chemotherapy or radiation therapy, but surgery is also an option that’s available. Many doctors may not treat mesothelioma aggressively if it is not yet causing symptoms. Stage two is the best time for curative surgery, but chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also options.

Later stages are more difficult to treat, but chemotherapy is available, and a stage three malignant mesothelioma patient may still be eligible for surgery. However, the effects of these treatments may not be long-lasting at this point.

At stage four, the focus of treatment may shift toward pain relief rather than extending life expectancy. Stage four treatments consist of chemotherapy and experimental treatments to shrink tumors and relieve symptoms as well as other pain-relieving palliative care methods.

What to Do If You Suspect You’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos

A one-time exposure to asbestos fiber isn’t necessarily something to worry about. Even long-term exposure rarely results in mesothelioma. However, if you begin to experience signs or symptoms of malignant mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases, contact your doctor immediately for treatment.

If you receive a diagnosis, you can take legal action as well. When you contact an experienced personal injury attorney, they will investigate your condition and history to determine whether you qualify for a lawsuit. Reach out right away to get the verdict you want as there are often strict deadlines for filing.

Where to Get Help after Mesothelioma Exposure

If you experienced asbestos exposure and developed mesothelioma cancer symptoms, contact a doctor right away. Malignant mesothelioma is a grim diagnosis, but help is available. Billions of dollars are waiting in asbestos trust funds to help you and your family through this disease. Ask an experienced attorney whether you qualify for a lawsuit now.

Have you been impacted by mesothelioma? The law offices of Cohen, Placitella & Roth can help you with every step of the process. Contact us today at cprlaw.com or reach out to us at (215) 567-3500.

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