Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Quick Summary

Peritoneal mesothelioma patients typically don’t notice any symptoms until decades after they were initially exposed to asbestos. If you have a known history of asbestos exposure, then it’s important to review the early signs of peritoneal mesothelioma. By detecting mesothelioma symptoms early, you can obtain an accurate diagnosis and undergo potentially life-saving treatments before it’s too late.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms Overview

  • Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms have a latency period of 10-50 years before they develop after initial asbestos exposure
  • Early symptoms are often confused with other digestive illnesses like IBS
  • One of the primary signs of peritoneal mesothelioma is abdominal fluid buildup (ascites)
  • Patients notice that certain symptoms, such as abdominal pain worsen as the mesothelioma metastasizes (spreads)
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma patients can undergo ongoing treatment for symptoms through multimodal therapies and palliative procedures

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptom Latency

Mesothelioma is known for its long latency period after initial asbestos exposure.

After someone ingests asbestos fibers into their digestive tract, it takes anywhere from 10-50 years before symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma become noticeable. Often, even the earliest warning signs of peritoneal mesothelioma can be mistaken for less severe conditions.

Something that specialists stress is that peritoneal mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed by general oncologists. Being a rare and new cancer, peritoneal mesothelioma isn’t fully understood and can be confused with other cancer types.

Knowing about your history of working or living around asbestos is critical to diagnosing mesothelioma before it has advanced to end-stages. Asbestos is the only known cause of peritoneal mesothelioma, so having a history of asbestos exposure is a key fact in making an accurate diagnosis.

An accurate diagnosis is crucial for patients because it allows them to undergo timely and potentially life-extending treatments.

Primary Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Because there are only 500 new cases of peritoneal mesothelioma each year, there is still confusion about what symptoms and signs to expect. However, based on the cases that doctors have treated, patients have reported some similarities in symptoms.

As with all degenerative conditions, symptoms start out mild and persist over time. The earlier and milder symptoms can easily be confused with digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. This is especially true if you’ve forgotten about your past interactions with asbestos, which is entirely possible.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Update

In general, specialists have found that there are certain early-stage and late-stage peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms. It’s important to note that each case is different, and patients may experience symptoms differently.

Early-Stage Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

There is currently no official cancer staging system for peritoneal mesothelioma. There have been too few cases to develop consistent criteria for doctors to determine stages. Instead, doctors categorize peritoneal mesothelioma as either early or late based on how localized or metastasized the disease is at diagnosis.

In early-stage peritoneal mesothelioma, the tumor has not spread to abdominal organs or outside the abdominal cavity, making it difficult to detect early symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma.

Most patients remain asymptomatic (displaying no symptoms) at first. But as the tumor grows, the peritoneum (abdominal lining) begins to fill with fluid. As more fluid builds up, the more patients will notice a swelling, bloated feeling. Peritoneal fluid buildup is called ascites, and its one of the primary indicators of peritoneal mesothelioma.

Here are the known early warning signs of peritoneal mesothelioma:

  • Feeling full
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Diarrhea and constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweating and fever
  • Anemia (lack of iron)

Symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation can easily be confused with other conditions that routinely cause these symptoms. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, colitis and celiac disease are all conditions with severe bowel symptoms, and they are far more common than peritoneal mesothelioma.

Many patients undergo these uncomfortable symptoms for months before reporting them to their doctor. Even if they do report them early, it’s easy for general practitioners to misdiagnose the condition at first. Eventually, as the mesothelioma advances into late stages, doctors may sense there is a malignancy (cancerous tumors) involved.

Late-Stage Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Without treatment, peritoneal mesothelioma tumors grow outside the peritoneum and invade nearby organs such as the stomach, the diaphragm and the intestines. If they spread far enough outside the primary location, mesothelioma cells can make their way outside the abdominal cavity and into nearby lymph nodes.

Once the mesothelioma has metastasized this much, patients may notice a serious increase in their earlier symptoms. Symptoms not only persist but they worsen as well.

Here are some possible late-stage peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms:

  • Blood clots
  • Lumps of tissue forming under the skin around the abdomen
  • Seizures
  • Further weight loss
  • Intestinal obstructions

Depending on how the mesothelioma has spread, patients may feel other symptoms based on affected areas. For example, it’s possible for the mesothelioma to spread to the liver or ovaries and cause pain in these areas.

By end-stage peritoneal mesothelioma, patients are usually unable to eat because of abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. As a result, patients don’t get the nourishment they need and subsequently become weak as their health declines.

Because late-stage peritoneal mesothelioma patients are in such discomfort, palliative procedures become important treatment options to relieve painful symptoms.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptom Management

No matter how far advanced the condition is, peritoneal mesothelioma symptom management is an essential part of patient care.

Symptom management techniques such as palliative procedures become increasingly more important as the mesothelioma progresses and patients suffer severe discomfort.

Doctors help manage peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms by:

  • Draining fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Debulking or removing tumors
  • Shrinking tumors in size
  • Removing parts of the diseased peritoneum
  • Controlling metastasis
  • Relieving pain with medications

Several treatments can provide these types of relief for patients. Doctors may recommend a combination of multiple treatments—a multimodal approach—to help alleviate symptoms in several ways.

Which treatments doctors choose depends on many factors, including how far advanced the disease is and your overall health level.

The most common symptom management treatments for peritoneal mesothelioma include:

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the process of administering anti-cancer drugs. There are multiple types of chemotherapy drugs and some are more effective for peritoneal mesothelioma than others. Chemotherapy drugs circulate through the blood system and kill off mesothelioma cells in their path to help slow down metastasis.
  • Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy involves high-energy beams pointed directly at a tumor site to kill off cells and prevent them from multiplying. Doctors administer radiation therapy to peritoneal mesothelioma patients to help shrink tumors and alleviate pain.
  • Palliative Surgery: One of the primary symptom-management techniques for peritoneal mesothelioma is palliative surgery that drains fluid buildup from the peritoneal cavity. As the fluid is drained, abdominal pressure decreases, helping to reduce pain and improve breathing.
  • Radical Surgeries: Depending on the case, doctors may recommend other surgeries such as a peritonectomy or cytoreduction to remove tumors and improve quality of life.

Peritoneal mesothelioma patients may also benefit from clinical trials that test novel therapies and new drugs. All peritoneal mesothelioma patients should ask about participating in clinical trials, which can improve quality of life and may increase life expectancy.

Seeing a Specialist About Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Peritoneal mesothelioma patients can experience worsening symptoms as the disease advances. However, it’s important for all patients to know that they do have many effective treatment options for relieving symptoms and improving quality of life.

If you have a history of asbestos exposure and you suspect you may have peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms, then obtaining an accurate diagnosis from a mesothelioma specialist is critical.

Only specialists have the expertise to properly diagnose this rare cancer type. Contact one of our Patient Advocates today to find out how to work with top peritoneal mesothelioma specialists in the country.

View Author and Sources

  1. Journal of Cancer Research adn Practice, “Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 22, 2017.
  2. Medscape General Medicine, “Peritoneal Mesothelioma: A Review” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 22, 2017.

Last modified: December 18, 2018