Like many cancers that take significant time to develop, you could have mesothelioma without knowing. Symptoms can take decades to appear and often mimic other common health problems, which makes early detection challenging.
What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
If you’re suffering from certain health issues that don’t seem to be getting better, talk to your doctor about the possibility of mesothelioma. Here are some of the symptoms that indicate you might have this form of cancer:
- Chest pain
- Pleural effusions (fluid build-up in the pleura)
- Painful breathing
- A persistent cough
- Stomach pains
- Ascites (fluid build-up in the peritoneum)
- Weight loss with no explanation
- Loss of appetite
- Pericardial effusion (fluid build-up in the pericardium)
- Heart murmurs
These symptoms are shared by other, more common health issues like asthma, COPD, the flu, and pneumonia. If you experience any of these issues, it’s easy to think it’s caused by something else. Since the symptoms of mesothelioma can take decades to appear, by the time you notice these symptoms, you may not even remember being exposed to the culprit: asbestos.
Asbestos causes nearly all cases of mesothelioma
There are a few different types of this cancer, but all are almost exclusively caused by asbestos. You’ve probably heard of asbestos, but you might not know exactly what it is and why it’s so dangerous.
There are six main types of asbestos, and all pose a significant danger to human health. As a mineral, it’s composed of flexible fibers that are surprisingly heat-resistant and deflect electricity and corrosion. These qualities make asbestos quite useful and as such, it’s often used to make products like insulation, electrical parts, cement and building materials, and also auto parts.
Unfortunately, despite its usefulness, asbestos fibers tend to be jagged and sharp, and when inhaled, they become lodged inside of the lungs and trapped throughout the body in various places. This causes inflammation and scarring, which eventually leads to cancer.
The different types of mesothelioma
The most common form of this cancer is pleural mesothelioma, which makes up about 80% of all cases. This is caused when you inhale asbestos fibers that become embedded in the pleura (the lining of your lungs), which is made of mesothelial cells. As the fibers cause irritation, the tissue becomes thicker and fluid begins to build up around the lungs. As the lining thickens, the lungs are prevented from expanding completely, which makes breathing painful.
The next most common form is peritoneal mesothelioma. This accounts for about 20% of cases and comes from ingesting asbestos dust. When swallowed, the sharp asbestos fibers end up lodged in the peritoneum, where they cause the same irritation in the lining.
Pericardial mesothelioma is the rarest type of this cancer and accounts for less than 1% of cases. Medical experts aren’t sure how it happens, but this form is caused by asbestos fibers making their way to the pericardium (the heart’s lining). An even rarer place for asbestos fibers to travel to is the testicles.
You may not know you’ve been exposed to asbestos
It’s common for people to be exposed without knowing they’ve come into contact with asbestos. Your chances of having been exposed are high if you’ve worked in construction or as an auto mechanic. However, many people have been exposed from their home.
Although asbestos is dangerous, it only becomes a problem when airborne. When it’s properly contained, it doesn’t pose much of a risk. Because of this, many homeowners become exposed when performing remodels on a home they haven’t had tested for asbestos.
The dilemma is that tenants and homeowners have no way to know if asbestos is present without having their home professionally tested, and sometimes landlords know about the problem, but fail to remedy the problem. Even though there are no state laws mandating disclosure, landlords can still be held liable for damages under the requirement to provide a habitable living space.
Have you been exposed to asbestos? Do you have symptoms?
If you have symptoms and know for sure that you’ve been exposed to asbestos, it’s important to find a doctor to examine you immediately. However, you can’t just go to your regular GP because you’ll risk getting misdiagnosed.
Most doctors aren’t trained to spot the difference between rare health conditions in patients who present with common symptoms. You need to see a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating mesothelioma. If you suspect your symptoms are related, don’t hesitate to find a specialist because it’s the only way you’ll get access to the treatment you need.