What are the warning signs of mesothelioma?

Posted: 6th Nov 18 7:30 AM

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer, predominantly caused by inhalation of asbestos dust and fibres. The cancer can develop anywhere between 10 and 50 years after exposure to asbestos.

For many people, mesothelioma is not diagnosed until it is in its late stages.

Mesothelioma tumours start as small nodules on the pleura (lining of the lungs) and the peritoneum (lining of the abdomen), but the cancer doesn’t cause symptoms until the tumours have grown and spread – recognising early signs of mesothelioma is difficult, as the cancer does not produce any early symptoms to identify.

What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?

Recognising and addressing mesothelioma symptoms as early as possible can improve medical outcomes, and possibly open up treatment options for the patient.

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma (affecting the pleura) in its earlier stages include:

  • Dry cough and/ or wheezing
  • Chest pains
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pleural effusions (a build-up of fluid on the lungs)

When in later stages, pleural mesothelioma has the same symptoms as its earlier stages, but other symptoms become more noticeable:

  • Increased chest pains
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty eating and swallowing
  • Coughing up blood

Peritoneal mesothelioma (affecting the peritoneum) symptoms often include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abdominal fluid build up
  • Bowel obstructions
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

The exact stage of mesothelioma at the time of initial diagnosis is almost impossible to predict from symptoms alone. Most diagnoses are not made until the later stages because symptoms were not noticeable until then.

If the cancer is identified and treated quickly, patients often benefit from a higher quality of life and may live longer than the average life expectancy, which is usually between 1 and 2 years.

Who is at risk of developing mesothelioma?

Nearly all cases of mesothelioma are caused by exposure to asbestos dust and fibres. The cancer and its associated symptoms only present themselves many years after the initial exposure to asbestos, usually between 10 and 50 years.

Mesothelioma can develop after minimal exposure to asbestos, usually through work or an occupational activity.

People who had jobs such as shipbuilders, boilermakers, laggers, joiners, fitters and carpenters, or worked on jobsites where asbestos was used around them are more likely to have been exposed to asbestos and risk developing mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma can also develop following secondary, or “shakedown”, exposure. People who worked with asbestos would often come home to their families covered in asbestos dust, and their wives and partners might wash or shake their overalls, possibly breathing in the asbestos themselves.

In more recent years, it has been found that nurses, teachers and ex-pupils have developed mesothelioma following exposure to damaged asbestos materials in schools, hospitals and other public buildings.

What should I do if I think I have mesothelioma?

If you or someone you know are showing symptoms caused by mesothelioma, and have been exposed to asbestos, it is important to speak to your GP as soon as possible. Tell your doctor about your symptoms, how they affect you, and when you were exposed to asbestos.

You should be sent for X-Rays, CT scans and other procedures with a respiratory specialist or oncologist. They should be able to tell you what has been causing your symptoms.

What should I do if I have been diagnosed with mesothelioma?

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you should get in touch with the National Asbestos Helpline to discuss what support is available for you.

We can offer guidance and advice, as well as put you in touch with some amazing charities and organisations set up to help people in your situation.

You may also be eligible for financial compensation and/ or benefits. We work closely with a team of specialist mesothelioma solicitors from Birchall Blackburn Law, who work tirelessly to guide you through the compensation claims process, and will take on all responsibility to let you focus on what matters most.

Further reading

What are the signs and symptoms of asbestosis?

What is the asbestos compensation claims process?

What is asbestos exposure?

Doctors told to ditch jargon and use ‘plain English’ – which could aid asbestos sufferers.