Mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer caused by asbestos, can prove difficult for physicians to diagnose. This is because early symptoms of the disease are sometimes mild and can easily go unnoticed. If you know or suspect you may have been exposed to asbestos, it’s important to understand the subtle ways in which mesothelioma can first present itself. Unfortunately, most patients are not diagnosed until stage III or IV, when treatment options are limited. As is the case with most cancers, an earlier diagnosis can lead to earlier treatment, which can ultimately lead to better chances of survival.
Recognizing your symptoms and then relaying them to your physician is only the first step in ensuring an early diagnosis. It’s crucial to remember that symptoms of mesothelioma are, at first, often inaccurately diagnosed by medical professionals. For instance, patients are sometimes told they have a bronchial infection, pneumonia, or COPD. If you are diagnosed with one of these diseases, it may be useful to get a second opinion. Mentioning a history of exposure to asbestos to your physician, along with presenting your symptoms, is your best chance for receiving an accurate early diagnosis.
Remember, symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear for 20-50 years after asbestos exposure. Knowing the early symptoms of mesothelioma is the first step to receiving early diagnosis.
7. Chest or Abdominal Pain and Swelling
Mesothelioma most typically affects the tissue around the lungs. An early sign of mesothelioma is chest pain, especially if this pain is felt under the ribcage. Like many early symptoms of mesothelioma, however, chest pain can be attributed to a wide variety of conditions and diseases.
In addition to affecting the lungs, mesothelioma can also affect tissue in the abdomen. This is called peritoneal mesothelioma. An early sign of this is abdominal pain and swelling. Just as with chest pain, abdominal pain is a symptom attributable to a wide variety of illnesses. If you are experiencing chest or abdominal pain, you should seek medical attention. Pain is your body signaling to you that something is wrong.
6. Chronic Cough
A chronic cough – just like the presence of chest or abdominal pain – is something to pay attention to. If this cough is accompanied by pain in the lungs or shortness of breath, make sure you seek medical attention. 36 percent of mesothelioma patients develop a chronic cough, but an even greater percentage – 79 percent – experience shortness of breath.
Fatigue is another early sign of mesothelioma. It’s common to overlook or discredit certain symptoms such as fatigue, especially if one is overworked or tired in general. Fatigue associated with cancer, however, is the type that does not resolve itself with sleep. This type of fatigue may also be sporadic. Because fatigue can result from many different medical conditions, recognizing additional symptoms is meaningful here in helping guide proper diagnosis.
4. Difficulty Swallowing (What Doctors Call “Dysphagia”)
If swallowing food becomes difficult, or if you or a loved one is experiencing pain upon swallowing, this is a cause for concern. As an early symptom of mesothelioma, difficulty swallowing may be accompanied by hoarseness, reflux, or the sensation of food being stuck in the back of one’s throat. Difficulty swallowing is not normal and is not something you should ignore.
3. Unexplained Weight Loss
Weight loss that occurs unintentionally is worrisome. 30 percent of mesothelioma patients experience weight loss. If you notice weight loss in either yourself or a loved one, ask yourself if there are valid, explicable reasons for it. Unexplained weight loss of more than a few pounds can be attributed to a wide variety of illnesses. It is important to see your doctor to determine the cause.
2. Fever or Excessive Sweating
At first, a fever may seem to indicate a passing condition. However, if this fever does not accompany other expected signs of a cold, it is worth questioning, especially if other symptoms such as those listed above are present. Excessive sweating, such as night sweats, is also a warning sign.
1. Pleural Effusions
The most common early sign of mesothelioma is the presence of pleural effusions. What’s an “effusion”? This is a build-up of excess fluid around the lungs that can be found in 90 percent of patients. However, like all of the early symptoms of mesothelioma, pleural effusions can be representative of other illnesses such as heart failure and embolisms.
Be Smart about Your Symptoms, Know When It’s Time to See a Doctor
Each of the symptoms listed here could, at first, result in an incorrect diagnosis. For instance, chest pain could be attributed to heart conditions such as angina. In addition, certain symptoms such as abdominal pain and fatigue often remain undiagnosed. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention. If you believe you may have been exposed to asbestos, be sure to mention this to your doctor right away. The more information you are able to provide, the sooner your doctor will know the best course of action.
Symptoms are the body’s way of communicating with us and with others. Listen to this communication. No matter what their cause, it is always important.