List of Complications Caused by Mesothelioma

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As mesothelioma progresses, it can cause many complications that affect your health and life. In pleural mesothelioma, tumors grow on the lining of the lungs. As they spread, the tumors affect the ability of the lungs to function.

Some of the most common symptoms of the disease – pleural effusion and shortness of breath – are respiratory complications caused by mesothelioma tumors. Respiratory complications also can arise from surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments.

There is not anything the patient can specifically do to avoid mesothelioma complications, but breathing exercises, oxygen, and palliative procedures can improve your quality of life. (

Common Complications of Mesothelioma

Below are the most common respiratory complications caused by the disease and how to treat them.

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath is also called dyspnea. It is one of the most common complications of the disease. According to a 2011 study of 240 pleural mesothelioma patients, 80% reported shortness of breath. (

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Supplemental oxygen and breathing techniques can help you to manage this symptom. Talk to your oncologist about breathing exercises you can try, or get a referral to a pulmonologist.

Pleural effusion

Pleural effusion is where fluid builds up between the layers of your pleural lining. The abnormal amount of fluid presses against your lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. About 90% of pleural mesothelioma patients have pleural effusion.

SEE ALSO: Can Asbestos Cause Malignant Pleural Effusions?

Most mesothelioma patients with pleural effusions get a thoracentesis. This is a procedure that drains fluid from the chest to relieve pressure on the lungs and make it easier to breathe. Physicians may also recommend pleurodesis; this is a procedure that involves placing a talc-like substance between the lungs and chest wall to prevent the buildup of fluid in the future. (

Rounded atelectasis

This is a folded lung or partially collapsed lung. This is a common respiratory complication caused by pleural effusion and pleural thickening. Various physical therapies and surgical treatments can address this problem.

Collapsed lung

A collapsed lung is also called a pneumothorax. It is relatively uncommon in mesothelioma patients. It can occur when air gets into the pleural space between the chest wall and the lung. Less than 10% of mesothelioma patients experience this complication.

SEE ALSO: Pleural Thickening vs Mesothelioma Differences

Surgical procedures and physical therapies can help to get rid of the trapped air so the lung can function normally.

Digital clubbing

A lower level of oxygen in the blood because of breathing problems can cause digital clubbing. This is a condition where the toes and fingers start to become round and bulbous. (

Difficulty swallowing

Dysphagia or difficulty in swallowing can happen as the mesothelioma grows more into the lung tissue.


Fluid buildup in the stomach can occur in patients with peritoneal mesothelioma.

Complications From Mesothelioma Treatments

Treatments for pleural mesothelioma, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, can also cause serious complications. Working with a team of healthcare professionals can reduce these complications.

Pneumonia and respiratory infections

Pleural mesothelioma patients are at a higher risk of getting pneumonia and respiratory infections. A 2017 study found that 2% of pleural mesothelioma patients get pneumonia. Your doctor will prescribe antivirals and antibiotics to treat your pneumonia.

Respiratory distress and failure

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) occurs when the air sacs in the lungs fill with fluid. It can happen after certain cancer treatments, such as talc pleurodesis or surgery. It also can happen after pneumonia.

Doctors may treat ARDS with an artificial lung or mechanical ventilation. Approximately 50% of all ARDS patients have respiratory failure within 10 days. Most people with pleural mesothelioma eventually die of respiratory failure.

Other respiratory complications from mesothelioma surgery include:

  • Pulmonary edema: Buildup of fluid in the lungs
  • Pulmonary embolus: Blood clots in the lungs
  • Bronchial air leaks: Air leaks from the lungs
  • Mediastinal shift: Organs shift inside the chest
  • Hemothorax: Bleeding around the lungs
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS): Lung failure

Some of the possible respiratory complications from chemotherapy are:

  • Cisplatin: Can lead to eosinophilic pneumonia, which is the accumulation of white blood cells in the lungs.
  • Pemetrexed: Can cause pneumonitis or lung inflammation, diffuse alveolar hemorrhage (bleeding in the lungs), and ARDS.
  • Gemcitabine: Can cause pneumonitis, eosinophilic pneumonia, and pulmonary fibrosis.

Respiratory complications from radiation therapy include:

  • Radiation pneumonitis also called lung inflammation
  • Chronic radiation fibrosis also called lung tissue scarring

Patients who have mesothelioma surgery, such as extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP), can experience complications including bleeding. Blood clots, infections, changes in heart rhythm, pleural effusion, and loss of lung function. (

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