The mesothelium is a layer of tissue which lines a few different areas of our body: the pleurae (membrane around the lungs), the pericardium (membrane around heart), and the peritoneum (membrane around the abdomen).
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer which affects the mesothelium. Every year in the United States, more than three thousand people are diagnosed with it. The overwhelming majority of these cases – approximately 80% – are associated with asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma from asbestos exposure can take decades to present itself, so it’s important to watch for these signs and symptoms.
- Pain and discomfort.
More than half of all patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma experienced chest pains. This includes patients in the first two stages of cancer. Many patients endure this pain for months before getting a diagnosis. Chest pain is also common with pericardial mesothelioma.
The discomfort of bloating is more often seen in those with peritoneal mesothelioma. More than three quarters see their abdomens swell with fluid, although doctors frequently misdiagnosis this as your typical digestive disorder.
- A dry cough.
Between 30 and 40 percent of patients with pleural mesothelioma will develop a cough. The pleural (lung) form of the cancer is almost strictly caused by asbestos exposure, making a discussion with a mesothelioma attorney absolutely necessary.
- Weight loss.
Unexplained weight loss is a warning sign of many cancers. However, weight loss is much more prevalent in those with peritoneal mesothelioma, as more than half of all patients experience it prior to diagnosis. Compare that to the roughly 30% of pleural patients who have this symptom.
“Weight loss” refers to loss of 10 or more pounds without any lifestyle modifications. As cancer progresses, weight loss becomes more pronounced.
- Weakness and fatigue.
Fatigue is seen in many cases of peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma. However, muscle weakness and fatigue are common across many cancers, and therefore aren’t a symptom that marks mesothelioma specifically.
With fatigue, you may notice that you spend more time in bed; for instance, lingering there an hour or two longer than you normally would. Carrying on with work as usual is noticeably harder as well, as fatigue makes it difficult to focus.
- Loss of appetite.
Loss of appetite is a particular concern with peritoneal mesothelioma; it affects more than half of all patients. This is key to know about due to the medical community’s propensity to mistake peritoneal mesothelioma for other digestive conditions, like IBS. If you’re uncertain, questioning an IBS diagnosis and asking for further testing is warranted.
- Shortness of breath.
Pericardial and pleural cases come with difficulty breathing or wheezing. With pleural patients in particular, more than 75% report not being able to draw as much breath as they used to. Pericardial patients may find their breath is shorter, in conjunction with those chest pains and perhaps heart palpitations.
Researching the symptoms of mesothelioma is a start, but you should never rely on online searches for an accurate diagnosis. Think back and identify times where you may have been exposed to asbestos, and then see a doctor. Explain your concerns about asbestos-related cancer, and ask them to test accordingly. When it comes to living with mesothelioma, early detection is everything.
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