Signs of Mesothelioma

The First Signs of Mesothelioma

As a disease primarily affecting the respiratory system, mesothelioma is hard to figure out from a simple evaluation of signs and symptoms, because they are similar to symptoms caused by other respiratory diseases. The same is true even when mesothelioma has spread to other regions, such as the abdomen and the heart.

In pleural mesothelioma, the following symptoms are commonly reported:

  • A chronic cough
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Pain in the chest or lower back
  • Weight loss

The first three symptoms of mesothelioma are linked to exudative pleural effusion, which is often detected when a diagnosis is conducted on a suspected case of mesothelioma. A positive X-ray exam will show an area like the one circled below.

mesothelioma xray

Figure 1: Pleural Effusion on left lung: image courtesy of Wikipedia

Pleural effusion:  

Pleural effusion is the accumulation of fluids between the pleural bilayer, causing it to press outwards in both directions, i.e. towards the lungs and towards the rib cage. The pressure on the lung impede the normal expansion and contraction of the lungs during breathing, making breathing laborious and inefficient. When the effusion presses on nerves, either in adjacent tissues or the ribs, it can induce sensations of great pain.

The effusion is also responsible for bringing about dysphagia, or problematic swallowing, by resulting in the physical constriction of the gullet by pushing other tissues towards it. The constrictions then make passing down food a painful process.

The cough is the body’s attempt to remove lodged asbestos fibers from the respiratory tract, but if they have managed to get all the way to the pleural membrane, that is not going to be so easy to achieve.

Effusions can also occur in other forms of mesothelioma. In the heart, the effusion is called a pericardial effusion, and ascites are located in the abdomen.

Other symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarseness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in sputum
  • Swelling of face & arms
  • Excessive sweating
  • Subcutaneous lumps

As can be seen, these symptoms are not specific to mesothelioma, which is why the signs and symptoms are so easily misdiagnosed. Without a medical evaluation, it is likely that these signs and symptoms will be misdiagnosed as TB, or any other respiratory illness. This is why it is important to go for a diagnostic procedure, such as X- rays, MRI or a CT scan if you experience any of these signs. That is only the sure way of identifying mesothelioma in a patient.

Osteopontin and SMRP

are two proteins that have in recent years received a lot of attention as possible indicators of mesothelioma. They have been both touted as early diagnostic biomarkers by one group of scientists, and rejected by another group. But what is certain amongst all this confusion is that an elevated level of osteopontin indicates exposure to asbestos, which is the leading cause of mesothelioma.


Mesothelioma has a poor prognosis because most cases of the disease are detected when they  are a little too late, and that could be because its early symptoms are similar to other common diseases. To mitigate this, it is imperative to seek the determination of any symptom by undergoing a medical evaluation, no matter how insignificant the symptom may be.