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Mesothelioma Symptoms and Diagnosis

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma may not cause any symptoms until it is more advanced, and the tumor has grown enough to affect the tissues and organs near it. Symptoms also vary depending on where the tumor is located.

The most common symptoms associated with pleural mesothelioma are shortness of breath, chest or lower back pain, dry and persistent cough and problems swallowing or the feeling of having something stuck in your throat. You may also experience swelling in your face and arms or unexplained weight loss.

If the tumor is in the abdomen (peritoneum) symptoms include swelling and pain of the abdomen, constipation, nausea, vomiting and blockage of the small intestine.

Regardless of where the cancer originated, most patients suffering from mesothelioma will have fatigue, fever and weight loss from a loss of appetite.

When to See Your Doctor

If you have been exposed to asbestos at work or somewhere else, have been diagnosed with frequent bouts of pneumonia or experience the symptoms listed above, you should consult your healthcare provider.

How Mesothelioma Is Diagnosed

To diagnose mesothelioma, your doctor will start with a physical exam to check for lumps and take down your medical and job history. One of the first tests your doctor will run is a chest X-ray or a CT scan to look for signs of prior exposure to asbestos in the form of pleural plaques (thickened pleura with calcium deposits) and other abnormalities. Sometimes, the chest X-ray or CT scan will reveal fluid build up between the lung and the chest all, called pleural effusion.

When pleural fluid is identified, the next step is to drain the fluid with an ultrasound-guided needle aspiration. This procedure is primarily performed to exclude other causes of fluid buildup and is not usually enough to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma.

The next step to diagnose mesothelioma is a biopsy. A biopsy sample can be obtained from the chest wall with CT or ultrasound guidance, under local anesthesia, or with the use of a small camera introduced between the lung and the chest wall under general anesthesia. The tissue sample obtained during the biopsy will then be analyzed to determine if you have mesothelioma and, if so, what kind. Once diagnosed, your doctor may then do more tests to determine what stage your cancer has progressed to.

After mesothelioma is diagnosed, your doctor will do tests to determine the extent to which your disease has progressed. In addition to the chest CT, a positron-emission tomography scan (PET scan) is generally obtained to identify other areas that have been affected by the cancer. You may need additional biopsies if your cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: March 5, 2020

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