Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that forms in the mesothelium, which is the protective layer of tissue that covers many of the body’s internal organs. It is often the direct result of exposure to asbestos dust or fibers through careers such as mining or drilling, but can derive from a number of other sources or conditions as well. Mesothelioma is currently treated using methods as far-flung as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or complex surgeries.
The early signs and symptoms of mesothelioma are more common as the result of other conditions, so many patients either ignore them or mistake them for more insignificant ailments. Medical professionals are conducting research into early detection of the cancer, but as of now many patients remain undiagnosed for at least a few months after symptoms have begun. Awareness of symptoms, particularly of early onset symptoms, can improve a patient’s later prognosis by allowing doctors and surgeons a longer time to try different treatments.
The most common types of malignant mesothelioma are pleural mesothelioma (of the chest) and peritoneal mesothelioma (of the abdomen or stomach). The first symptoms that patients often notice are shortness of breath or general breathing difficulty, chest wall or abdomen pain, and unexplained weight loss. Pleural mesothelioma sufferers also notice a nasty cough, high fever, excessive sweating and fatigue, throat problems such as trouble swallowing and hoarseness, and occasionally swelling of the face and upper extremities. Peritoneal mesothelioma often carries with it similar symptoms in a different location on the body; additional concerns include swelling or fluid in the abdomen, nausea and vomiting, and constipation. Although not all mesothelioma patients suffer from the same exact set of symptoms, recognition of a combination of these common symptoms can shave a few months off of the disease’s unchecked spread. A general awareness in patients, particularly those who know they have been exposed to asbestos in the workplace or at home, can make all the difference in the long run.