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Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Often by the time people are diagnosed with mesothelioma, the disease is in its advanced stages. Many realize that they in fact suffered symptoms of mesothelioma for many months or years, but chalked it up to some other cause.

The signs and symptoms of mesothelioma are not always as obvious as one might assume, considering that it’s a terminal illness.

Our Boston mesothelioma attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman understand that the symptoms will vary depending on the type of mesothelioma, but almost all patients have one thing in common: Asbestos.

Exposure to asbestos – particularly in a workplace setting – is the single greatest risk factor for developing mesothelioma. The fibrous material was used for many years in everything from automobile brake pads to roofing to textiles. Although not as widely used today, millions of Americans may have already been exposed to asbestos.

The rate of mesothelioma in the U.S. spiked dramatically between the 1970s and 1990s, though it’s leveled off a bit since then, with an average of 3,000 new cases diagnosed annually.

The fallout from that asbestos exposure isn’t seen until decades later because asbestos has a latency period of 10 to 50 years. That’s what makes the symptoms of mesothelioma so difficult to identify. Those who suffer from it often never see it coming.

What Causes Mesothelioma?

As the American Cancer Society notes, the only proven cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. There are other “risk factors,” such as smoking and certain genetic pre-dispositions that may heighten the odds of a diagnosis. But as far as causation, it always circles back to asbestos.

There are generally three ways asbestos exposure occurs:

  • Occupationally. This is the most common type of exposure we see in mesothelioma litigation. Those working in industrial occupations where they frequently worked with materials containing asbestos suffer the highest rates of mesothelioma. These workers include electricians, shipyard workers, mechanics and construction workers.
  • Secondhand. This type of exposure happens when a person working in one of these high-risk occupations inadvertently exposed those with whom they lived to the risk by carrying toxic asbestos fibers home on their clothing or in their vehicle.
  • Naturally. This happens when people live near large deposits and were exposed via mining projects or water run-off. This is the least common type of exposure.
How Does Mesothelioma Develop?

Exposure to asbestos is most likely to happen when materials that contain asbestos are loosened or disturbed, causing asbestos fibers to be released into the air.

The real danger occurs when asbestos fibers are breathed in or swallowed, traveling to the ends of small air passages to the lining of internal organs (usually the lungs, but also sometimes the stomach and even the heart). Once there, these tiny fibers cause scarring and inflammation that in turn could cause cellular damage that results in genetic mutations, uncontrolled growth and tumors.

These genetic mutations occur over the course of decades, which is why the initial symptoms are usually mistaken for a common cold.

Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma is the type of mesothelioma that accounts for approximately 75 percent of all asbestos exposure cancer cases. This is the type of mesothelioma that occurs in the lungs, and is sometimes referred to as “mesothelioma of the chest.”

The ACS outlines the following symptoms of pleural mesothelioma:

  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fever.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Weight loss.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Swelling of the arms and face.
  • Fatigue.
  • Hoarseness.

It can start with a nondescript chest pain or just a slight shortness of breath during physical activity. These kinds of symptoms often mirror a minor respiratory infection, which is hardly cause for alarm, even in a senior citizen. In fact, some people may go months or years without recognizing how serious their condition is.

Symptoms for asbestos-related lung cancer may be similar.

Because diagnoses for pleural mesothelioma typically aren’t made until after the cancer has spread, the prognosis may be grim. Although this condition takes years to develop after asbestos exposure, it progresses rapidly once taking hold.

Symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the abdomen. The peritoneum is a protective membrane that surrounds the abdomen. It has two layers, and mesothelioma can potentially develop on both. This type of mesothelioma accounts for less than 20 percent of all asbestos-related cancers.

Like pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma is latent. It’s not revealed often for many decades after exposure to asbestos, which can occur either through:

  • Swallowing asbestos fibers, which travel from the digestive track to the peritoneum.
  • Inhalation, which results in fibers being transported to the peritoneum via the lymphatic system.

When patients first start having symptoms, they may experience:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Constipation.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Tenderness or swelling of the abdomen.

We don’t have a great deal of research on this type of cancer. Further, because it’s so rare, patients are often misdiagnosed, at least in the earlier stages.

Later stages of the disease can result in symptoms such as:

  • Changes in bowel habits.
  • Feeling of fullness.
  • Fever or night sweats.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Anemia.
  • Vomiting or nausea.

In cases where the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body, we could see difficulty with swallowing, swelling of the neck and/ or face and severe pain.

Here again, until the condition is in the later stages, symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are often mistaken for a much less serious condition.

Symptoms of Pericardial Mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma is extremely rare, but it does occur. As a study published in Case Reports in Oncological Medicine revealed, clinical signs and symptoms of this condition tend to be non-specific.

Formally referred to as “primary pericardial mesothelioma,” this condition accounts for 2 to 3 percent of all primary heart and pericardial tumors. Diagnoses are difficult and tend to be made late, and in most cases after autopsy.

Some symptoms may include:

  • Leg swelling
  • Loss of weight
  • Fatigue
  • General malaise/ discomfort

Although the prognosis is poor, the aforementioned study indicated that prompt, aggressive surgery followed by two bouts of chemotherapy allowed one 68-year-old patient to live disease-free for two years before an aggressive recurrence 27 months later. Most patients, however, die within six months.

Anyone with a history of asbestos exposure should be acutely aware of the potential for illness, and not overlook or dismiss what might seem to be minor symptoms. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment often result in the most optimal outcomes.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

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