Mesothelioma is a unique disease in that symptoms do not usually manifest themselves until anywhere from 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. For patients and doctors, this is the most frustrating aspect of the disease. The latency period of mesothelioma is lengthy, making the disease undiagnosable until its later stages when symptoms finally begin to appear and little can be done to slow the progress of the disease.
Just like any other disease, the symptoms of mesothelioma vary from case to case and with the severity of the illness. The type of mesothelioma - whether pleural, peritoneal, or pericardial - also determines what the symptoms might be. Often times, the general overall health of the individual, as well as his/her age, may also play a role in how the patient is affected by the disease and which symptoms are most bothersome.
One of the most difficult problems with diagnosing mesothelioma and connecting the symptoms with the disease is the fact that so many of the symptoms - both individually and in tandem - can easily be mistaken for other more common diseases like flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, heart disease, and others.
A doctor well versed in mesothelioma treatment will take time to investigate a patient's history and hopefully connect past exposure to asbestos with the symptoms. Patients, however, can do their part as well. Anyone that was ever exposed to asbestos, even if it was decades ago, should inform their doctor of the exposure. That information will not only aid the doctor in diagnosis but will also help eliminate the need for many costly and uncomfortable tests that may be ordered while fishing for a diagnosis.
Tests are being developed that will help diagnose mesothelioma at an earlier stage, even before the most common symptoms appear. It is hoped that these tests will aid in treating the disease before it reaches its most advanced stages.
As was stated previously, symptoms of mesothelioma can vary, but the most common general symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Pain in chest or abdomen
- Fluid in the chest, lungs, or abdomen
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to sleep
- Husky voice
- Difficulty swallowing
It is the first two symptoms that generally bring a patient to the doctor's office. Both difficulty breathing and persistent coughing are caused by the lung's inability to expand properly due to tumors in the pleural region. The growing tumors cause the pleura, pericardium, or peritoneum to expand, thus allow fluid to enter. That generally causes pain - acute to severe - in the affected regions, such as the chest or abdomen. Breathing difficulties also make it hard to sleep and often result in loss of appetite and, eventually, weight loss.