Mesothelioma (mez-uh-thee-lee-O-muh) is a type of cancer that can be either malignant or benign. Malignant mesothelioma is the most hazardous form of cancer and may be deadly in most cases. This cancer affects the tissue known as the mesothelium, which protects the heart, stomach, lungs, and other organs by making a special fluid that allows the organs to move.

Causes of Mesothelioma

Almost always this type of cancer is caused by previous exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a kind of fiber present in a lot of the insulating and building substances which are naked to the human eye. It is unclear how early the correlation between asbestos and mesothelioma was made.

Mesothelioma is a very aggressive form of cancer where early diagnosis increases the amount of effective treatments. Unfortunately, due to the way it forms, the cancer may not manifest until anywhere between 20 to 50 years after an asbestos exposure. Regardless of when the asbestos exposure occurred, it is important to tell your doctor so that the correct diagnosis can be made.

As with most diseases, symptoms of mesothelioma vary case by case. Symptoms can also be determined by whether the mesothelioma is defined as pleural, peritoneal, or pericardial.

Types of Mesothelioma

  1. Pleural Mesothelioma is the most common form of mesothelioma. This is where the cancer affects the lungs and the protective lining and cavity of the lungs filling it with excessive liquid.
  2. Peritoneal Mesothelioma is a rarer form of mesothelioma where the cancer affects the stomach and abdomen. Symptoms include some or all of the following: abdominal pain and swelling, nausea, loss of appetite, chest pain, anemia, fever, and blood clotting abnormalities.
  3. Pericardial Mesothelioma is the rarest form of mesothelioma cancer. This is where the cancer affects the heart and the cavity that surrounds it, known as the pericardium. Patients have reported chest pain, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, persistent coughing, and palpitations.


Mesothelioma symptoms are generally non specific and resemble common sicknesses such as viral pneumonia, heart disease, flu, and bronchitis. These symptoms include: shortness of breath (dyspnea) or difficulty breathing, coughing and/or coughing up of blood, chest or abdomen pain caused by excessive fluid, weight loss, husky voice, difficulty swallowing, fever, anemia, bowel obstruction, inability to sleep, and loss of appetite. Since these are general symptoms of common viral diseases, it is important to report any asbestos history you have to a doctor so the correct diagnosis can be made.

When is it time to worry?

Usually the first two symptoms bring patients into the doctors office because they are the most common. Asbestos exposure, even if the occurrence was decades ago, is important information that doctors need to know in helping the diagnosis of mesothelioma. Providing this information early can assist in avoiding uncomfortable and expensive tests in addition to early detection increases the chances of eliminating the cancer.

More resources:

The Mesothelioma Cancer & Asbestos Resource Center at Asbestos.Net

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