What Are the First Early Signs & Symptoms of Asbestos Cancer?

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Asbestos cancer (mesothelioma) occurs in the membranes that cover most of the internal organs. Mesothelioma starts as small nodules in the lining of your lungs or abdomen. Mesothelioma does not usually show symptoms until 20-50 years after asbestos exposure. Symptoms show up when the disease has gotten to later stages.

Common asbestos cancer symptoms such as chest pain, rapid weight loss, and extreme fatigue do not usually appear at first. Only when tumors press on nerves, organs, bones, and other body parts will you experience symptoms. (Asbestos.com)

That is why it is hard to diagnose mesothelioma in stages I or II based only on symptoms. But in some cases, early-stage mesothelioma can cause enough pleural fluid to build up around the lungs to cause breathlessness or severe cough.

Below is more information about symptoms of specific types of asbestos cancer, as well as other critical information to improve your quality of life.

Asbestos Cancer First Sign Symptoms

If you experience many of these symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately: (Cancer.org)

  • Wheezing or dry cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain in the abdomen or chest
  • Night sweats or fever
  • Fluid around the lungs
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness in the muscles

Some types of asbestos cancer have similar symptoms. But other signs of asbestos cancer are unique to the location of the tumors:

  • 36% of patients have a chronic cough.
  • 64% report chest pain.
  • 79% have shortness of breath.
  • 90% have pleural effusions.
  • 30% have severe weight loss.

For instance, fatigue is common in all forms of asbestos cancer. But pericardial mesothelioma is the only type of the disease that causes heart palpitations and arrhythmia.

Symptoms specific to pleural mesothelioma include:

  • Harsh or faint breathing
  • Wheezing or dry cough
  • Fluid build-up around your lungs
  • Hemoptysis (coughing up blood)
  • Fatigue and body aches
  • Chest pain
  • Blood clotting problems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Reduced ability to expand chest when breathing

Symptoms specific to peritoneal mesothelioma are:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Bloating (abdominal distention)
  • Hernias
  • Poor appetite
  • Feeling full
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Fatigue
  • Ascites (abdominal fluid build-up)
  • Bowel obstruction

Symptoms specific to pericardial mesothelioma include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Heart murmur, palpitations, and arrhythmias

Symptoms specific to testicular mesothelioma include:

  • Fluid build up in the scrotum (hydrocele)
  • Swollen testicles
  • Lumps in scrotum
  • Pain in the testicles

A lump in the testicles is the most common sign of testicular asbestos cancer, which is the rarest form of the disease. Testicular cancer accounts for less than 1% of all asbestos cancer cases.

Asbestos Cancer Symptoms By Stages

In stages I and II, many patients will not show any symptoms. However, these symptoms are most frequent in the early stages:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing constantly
  • Pleural effusion (fluid build-up)
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Body aches

Many of the above symptoms are common with less serious health problems, such as the common cold, flu, COPD, and asthma. It is estimated that 25% of asbestos cancer patients have chest pain and shortness of breath for at least six months before they see their doctor.

In stage 3 mesothelioma and stage 4 mesothelioma, the symptoms are similar to those in stages I and II, but they are more severe. Most asbestos cancer patients are diagnosed in these stages because of the severe symptoms:

  • Night sweats
  • Pain when you breathe
  • Anemia
  • Coughing constantly
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fluid build-up
  • Anemia
  • Constant pain the ribs and chest
  • Extreme tiredness

How to Know That You Have Mesothelioma

A biopsy will confirm that you have asbestos cancer. But physicians may notice the early signs of the disease by accident. A routine test, such as a blood test or X-ray, could detect something abnormal. Symptoms of asbestos cancer can resemble more common diseases, so they are not good indicators to diagnose mesothelioma.

It is important to tell your doctor about any history of asbestos exposure as a preventative measure. Also, having regular cancer screenings can help to obtain an earlier asbestos cancer diagnosis. If the disease is diagnosed earlier, there is a much better chance of receiving treatment that can extend your life.

Coping With Asbestos Cancer Symptoms for the First Time

Asbestos cancer symptoms stem from the disease itself. They can be similar to cancer treatment side effects. Side effects from cancer treatment often stop days to weeks after treatments end. Asbestos cancer symptoms usually get worse as cancer progresses. Management of your cancer symptoms is vital to the quality of life. (Mayoclinic.org)

If you are experiencing severe pain and discomfort from asbestos cancer, speak to your oncologist about being referred to a palliative care specialist. These specialists can help to manage your symptoms and quality of life.

Asbestos cancer symptoms can be managed in the following ways:

  • Nutrition: Having the right diet is essential to keep your strength and energy with asbestos cancer. Eating right also helps you to recover after your cancer treatments.
  • Alternative therapies: Acupuncture and mind-body therapies can help you to manage your anxiety, pain, and nausea.
  • Asbestos cancer specialists: This cancer is rare, and getting care from a mesothelioma expert can enhance your access to the latest cancer therapies to ease your symptoms. You also can live longer after your diagnosis if you are receiving treatment from a mesothelioma doctor.
  • PleurX catheter: This device helps to drain fluid at home every two or three days.
  • Radiation therapy: While this therapy will not cure your cancer, it can reduce the size of tumors and relieve pain.
  • Communication: Tell your doctor if you have changes in the intensity or type of symptoms. This will help your doctor to recommend other therapies and procedures that will reduce your pain and discomfort.

How Asbestos Cancer Symptoms Contribute to Your Diagnosis

Telling your physician about your asbestos exposure history and getting cancer screenings are critical. These can help to get a mesothelioma diagnosis faster. Catching any cancer in the early stages means you probably have more treatment options and may improve your prognosis.

According to a 2019 clinical study, early-stage pleural mesothelioma patients who had less aggressive surgery with chemotherapy, radiation, or both lived the longest after they were diagnosed. Median survival for these cancer patients was 36 months. (Semithorcardiovascsurg.com)

When Should You See Your Doctor?

If you were exposed to asbestos at work or at home, have pneumonia often, or experience symptoms listed on this page, it is critical to talk to your doctor right away. Remember: The sooner you have an asbestos cancer diagnosis, the better. You will have more treatment options and could live much longer with the disease. (Lung.org)