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Mesothelioma Symptoms and Causes

Mesothelioma: An Overview

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which malignant cells are found in the lining of the chest or abdomen. Mesothelial cells form a lining called the mesothelium. This lining protects the outer surface of internal organs, such as the lungs, stomach, heart, and others. Tumors can start in any of these places.

  • Pleural mesotheliomas — this is the most common type and starts in the lining on the outer surface of the lungs
  • Pericardial mesotheliamas — types which begin in the sac around the heart
  • Peritoneal mesotheliomas — these begin in the abdominal cavity
  • Rarely, mesotheliomas start in the scrotal sac surrounding the testes

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United States each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Usually, there are no symptoms in the early stages of this cancer. Symptoms may appear when the cancer is more advanced. Symptoms depend on where the malignant mesothelioma is located.

Symptoms for all types and stages of this cancer:

  • Breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, especially if there is a recent change in the amount of walking or exercising you can do
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Lumps in the belly
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain or swelling in the belly
  • Pain under the rib cage or in the chest
  • Swallowing problems
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss for no reason 

Although these are symptoms of malignant mesothelioma, they may also be signs of other, less serious medical problems. If you have any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor.

How Is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

If you are having symptoms of malignant mesothelioma, your doctor will ask you about these things:

  • Your health history
  • Your family's history of cancer
  • Your other risk factors, such as working with asbestos
  • Your doctor will also do a physical exam; the exam can help tell if you have fluid in the chest, abdomen or heart, which can be a sign of mesothelioma. It can also be a sign of some other cancer or could be related to a condition that is not cancer
  • Imaging tests — You may have one or more of these imaging tests to help find out if you have malignant mesothelioma; or, if a biopsy shows you have mesothelioma, these tests may be done to help figure out how far it has spread
    • X-rays — X-rays of your chest can help your doctor see if you have fluid or other signs of cancer in the spaces between your lungs. X-rays of your abdomen can help the doctor see if the abdomen is affected with areas of cancer.
    • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan — This test takes many X-rays from many angles. It can be used to find mesothelioma and it can also help in determining how far it has spread.
    • Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) — MRIs can show more detail than X-rays and can help a doctor figure out the location, size and stage of the cancer.

Mesothelioma Clinical Trials

The Cancer Institute of North Shore-LIJ Health System offers a full array of clinical trials. The result of this research not only impacts survival, but also enhances the quality of life. For more information about clinical trials for mesothelioma, visit The embedded asset has been deleted:
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Make an Appointment at the Cancer Institute

The Cancer Institute at North Shore-LIJ Health System makes it easy for you to take the first steps in ensuring the best oncological care for yourself and your family. Visit the locations of our network of The embedded asset has been deleted:
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meeting times and locations.

To learn more about the different types of cancer and treatment options, visit our The embedded asset has been deleted:
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