Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Cancer doesn’t cause symptoms until the tumors have grown and spread, usually around cancer stage III and IV, and they begin to press against the chest wall or abdominal cavity.
Recognizing mesothelioma symptoms early in cancer’s development is nearly impossible because the disease doesn’t produce early symptoms to identify. Symptoms of mesothelioma can often be confused with the symptoms of other diseases.

Many of the early symptoms of mesothelioma are more likely to be caused by other conditions, so at first, people may ignore them or mistake them for common, minor ailments. Most people with mesothelioma have symptoms for at least a few months before they are diagnosed.

The first symptoms of mesothelioma include chest or abdominal pain, bloating and shortness of breath, depending on the location of cancer. Because early-stage signs can be slight, doctors often mistake them as normal aches and pains or symptoms of less serious illnesses.

Still, if you have been exposed to asbestos, it’s important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

Signs of cancer start to arise; the most common mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • A dry cough or wheezing
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Respiratory complications
  • Pain in the chest or abdomen
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness

Symptoms of Mesothelioma Type

Symptoms can also vary significantly based on the type of mesothelioma a person has. The table below provides an overview of the most common signs and symptoms of late-stage mesothelioma based on the location of the tumors.


Pleural Peritoneal Pericardial
  • Pain in the side of the chest or lower back
  • Abdominal (belly) pain
  • Irregular heartbeat/palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling or fluid in the abdomen
  • Chest pain
  • Chronic  Cough
  • Weight loss (without trying)
  • Fever/night sweats
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Constipation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • A buildup of fluid linings of the lungs
  • Anemia – most often in women
  • Weight loss – especially if sudden and/or unexplained
  • Fever


These symptoms can be caused by mesothelioma, but more often they are caused by other conditions. While a few symptoms are common to all types of the disease, mesothelioma symptoms are strongly tied to the location of the mesothelioma tumors in the body.

Mesothelioma most often occurs in the tissue surrounding the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) but can also occur in the tissue in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), the tissue that surrounds the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) and the tissue surrounding the testicles.

Pain as A Symptom

Over half of all pleural mesothelioma patients have pain in the lower, back or sides of the chest. Sufferers of peritoneal mesothelioma may also experience pain in the abdominal area.
Pericardial mesothelioma patients often have chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and constant and acute coughing.

1. Pleural Mesothelioma

The mesothelium that covers the lungs is called the pleura. Mesothelioma that develops in the pleura is known as malignant pleural mesothelioma or, simply, pleural mesothelioma. It accounts for more than 90% of all mesotheliomas. Mesothelioma typically developing more than 20 years after exposure to asbestos.
The use of asbestos was completely banned in 1999, so the risk of exposure is much lower nowadays.
The American Cancer Society approximates that more than 3,000 people in the United States are diagnosed annually with this cancer, compared to the estimated 220,000 Americans diagnosed with lung cancer each year.

According to a 2011 study of 221 pleural mesothelioma patients, many reported similar symptoms in the early stages, often before it was diagnosed:

  • 90 percent developed pleural effusions (excess fluid around the lungs)
  • 79 percent experienced shortness of breath
  • 64 percent suffered chest pain
  • 36 percent had a chronic cough
  • 30 percent experienced significant weight loss


2. Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms are caused by tumors developing within the peritoneum, which protects the abdominal organs. As tumors grow, the surrounding abdominal tissues become inflamed.
The peritoneum has two layers. The inner layer lines the surface of organs such as the bowel, liver, and ovaries and is called the visceral peritoneum. The outer layer lines the walls of the abdomen and pelvis and is called the parietal peritoneum.

3. Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pericardial mesothelioma makes up less than 1 percent of mesothelioma cases, and the exact origin of the disease is unknown. Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms occur when tumors form in the pericardium, which is the tissue lining that protects the heart. As pericardial tumors grow, the pericardium layers start to thicken in response to inflammation.
Pericardial thickening causes constriction of the heart muscle, which impairs its ability to function. The constriction of the heart also causes respiratory symptoms.