Mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms of the disease often closely mimic those of less serious conditions.


What is it?

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer. It occurs in the lining of the body's internal organs.

There are three (3) forms of mesothelioma:

  • Pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the pleural lining of the lungs and is the most commonly diagnosed type of this cancer;
  • Pericardial mesothelioma, which manifests in the pericardial lining of the heart; and
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma, found in the peritoneal lining of the abdomen.

Mesothelioma cancer is caused by one thing: previous exposure to asbestos. It may take, however, many years before the symptoms start to show. In fact, the latency period of mesothelioma can be decades long, so many people who worked with asbestos in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s are only now showing symptoms.

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos has been mined and used commercially in North America since the late 1800s. Its use increased greatly during World War II. Since then, asbestos has been used in many industries. For example, the building and construction industries have used it for strengthening cement and plastics as well as for insulation, roofing, fireproofing, and sound absorption. The shipbuilding industry has used asbestos to insulate boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes. The automotive industry uses asbestos in vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads. Asbestos has also been used in ceiling and floor tiles; paints, coatings, and adhesives; and plastics.

In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos; however, uses developed before 1989 are still allowed.

If you have worked in any of the industries that use asbestos, you may have been exposed.

What are the Symptoms?

Mesothelioma symptoms do not usually manifest themselves until anywhere from 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos, and just like any other disease, the symptoms vary from case to case and with the severity of the illness. The type of mesothelioma—whether pleural, peritoneal, or pericardial—also determines what the symptoms might be.

The most common general symptoms are:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Pain in chest or abdomen
  • Fluid in the chest, lungs, or abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to sleep
  • Husky voice
  • Difficulty swallowing

How is Mesothelioma Treated?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer but can be managed with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Currently, there is no known cure for asbestos cancer but several mesothelioma treatment regimens have proven to be successful in helping the patient avoid pain and discomfort caused by the disease.

How is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

Mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms of the disease often closely mimic those of less serious conditions. Doctors have many tools they can use to determine if you have mesothelioma or a less serious disease with similar symptoms:

  • Physical Examination
  • Chest/Abdominal X-Ray
  • Computed Axial Tomography (CAT) Scan
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Blood Tests
  • Fluid Tests
  • Biopsy
  • Laboratory Tests

For more information, please explore the very informative sites listed in References below.


Mesothelioma: Medline Plus

National Cancer Institute