Common Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure
Mesothelioma is a rare but very serious cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma differs from typical lung cancer in that it forms in the thin layers of tissues that cover the lungs and other organs in the abdomen, as well as the heart. Each type of mesothelioma causes different types of symptoms stemming from short or long term asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma and its symptoms develops in some people who have been exposed to asbestos either in the workplace or at home. The most common settings for asbestos exposure are heavy industry settings, such as shipyards, auto repair facilities, manufacturing facilities, mines, and even old homes and schools.
It usually takes heavy, long-term exposure for mesothelioma to develop, but there are cases where short term and even one time exposures led to mesothelioma.
Asbestos exposure leads to symptoms that are caused by serious health complications including mesothelioma when work or other activities disturb the materials that contain asbestos. When the tiny, sharp asbestos fibers are released into the air, they can be inhaled by anyone in the area. The tiny fibers become trapped in the lung lining. Over decades, the fibers can trigger biological changes that lead to inflammation, scarring and even genetic damage that can cause cancer.
Asbestos fibers most often get trapped in the lung lining, or pleura. Thus, the most common type of the disease is known as pleural mesothelioma. The fibers also can be trapped in the abdominal cavity – peritoneal mesothelioma, and in the lining of the heart – pericardial mesothelioma.
What Are Common Asbestos Symptoms?
Asbestos symptoms related to mesothelioma differ depending upon whether you have pleural, peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma, where the tissue and lining around the lungs are affected. Some of the most common asbestos symptoms for this type of the disease are:
- Shortness of breath
- Regular cough
- Pleural effusion
- Lower back pain
- Pain in the side of chest
- Voice that is raspy
- Coughing up blood
- Hard time swallowing
- Persistent fever
- Sweating at night
- Rapid, unexplained weight loss
This type of mesothelioma accounts for 75% of all cases. If you have any of these symptoms for an extended period of time, especially chest pain and shortness of breath, talk to a doctor immediately. These two symptoms occur because of fluid buildup caused by asbestos fibers in the pleural area. Having some fluid here is good, but as fluid builds up, it makes breathing harder and the extra fluid presses the lungs, which leads to chest pain.
Three out of four pleural mesothelioma patients have shortness of breath, and at least half have chest pain.
There are four stages for mesothelioma that doctors use to classify how the cancer is progressing. Unfortunately, symptoms for pleural mesothelioma are not noticed until the cancer is in stage III or IV, which means that it has spread to other parts of the body. At that point, treatment options are more limited and are often restricted to making the patient more comfortable.
Most pleural mesothelioma patients report chest pain and shortness of breath in their first meeting with the doctor. Patients do not usually have weight loss or fatigue when they first visit the doctor, but these symptoms usually become clear as the cancer progresses to a later stage. Some patients may eventually develop swelling in the face and arms, and also may suffer from back and nerve pain.
One of the problems with pleural mesothelioma symptoms is that they can be easily confused with other types of cancer. In fact, some doctors have been known to mistake pleural mesothelioma symptoms for a fairly benign condition, such as flu or pneumonia.
Some doctors may confuse pleural mesothelioma with lung cancer. This can lead to a delay in treatment which can affect the prognosis.
The life expectancy of someone with this form of mesothelioma is only 18 months or less, but it is possible for some patients to live longer. The earlier pleural mesothelioma is diagnosed, the more likely that the patient will live longer.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms
The abdominal lining is most commonly affected by peritoneal mesothelioma. This is the second most common form of mesothelioma. Some of the asbestos symptoms related to this type of mesothelioma are:
- Loss of weight
- Pain in the abdomen
- Fluid buildup in abdomen
- Obstruction of the bowel
- Blood clotting problems
- Upset stomach/nausea
- Feet swelling
The most common asbestos symptoms that may send the patient to the doctor are abdominal swelling and pain, diarrhea and constipation. Unfortunately, many patients do not experience significant symptoms until the tumors have spread throughout the abdomen.
A serious problem with peritoneal mesothelioma is that it is commonly misdiagnosed by doctors. Many of the symptoms of this rare cancer, such as pain in the abdomen, diarrhea and swelling, can easily be confused with minor health problems such as appendicitis or ulcer. These symptoms also are common for other abdominal cancers. Any delay in the proper diagnosis of mesothelioma will delay treatment and the chances of a good prognosis are reduced.
An even rarer subtype of peritoneal mesothelioma is omental mesothelioma. This is a cancer that forms in the omentum, which is a sheet of fatty tissue in the abdomen that is suspended in front of the intestines, resembling an apron. The omentum protects the organs of the abdomen, stores various nutrients and prevents infections from spreading. The peritoneum in turn covers the omentum and both have mesothelial cells that can turn into cancer after exposure to asbestos.
Peritoneal mesothelioma normally causes cancer cells to spread from the peritoneum and into the omentum. Symptoms of omental mesothelioma resemble those of the peritoneal variety.
Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms
Pericardial mesothelioma is the most rare type of cancer that affects the tissues lining the heart. Some of the most common asbestos symptoms for pericardial mesothelioma are:
- A great deal of coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in chest
- Heart murmur
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath when lying flat on back
- Upset stomach and vomiting
- Poor appetite
- Heart palpitations
The majority of asbestos symptoms for pericardial mesothelioma are due to fluid buildup and thickening of the pericardial heart layers. If you have any of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor, and he should order an X-ray and/or CT scan.
There are only approximately 200 cases of pericardial mesothelioma that have been documented in medical literature. This is only 1% of all known cases of mesothelioma. Because it is so rare, it is very easy for it to be misdiagnosed by even experienced physicians. Many doctors will tend to misdiagnose pericardial mesothelioma for various types of heart problems.
Fluid buildup around the heart can be caused by many types of heart conditions. Any delay in the diagnosis of this serious form of cancer can greatly reduce your life expectancy. Pericardial mesothelioma is also very hard to treat, given the sensitivity of the heart to cancer treatments.
You should be cautious when you are looking at possible symptoms of mesothelioma because it is easy for the layman to misinterpret them. For example, losing weight and pain in the abdomen could be caused by many things besides mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is slow to develop, but once you have all of the above symptoms for your particular type, the disease kills quickly and is very difficult to treat.
Asbestos Exposure Diagnosis
If you are experiencing any of the above asbestos symptoms for any type of mesothelioma for an extended period of time, you should be seen by a doctor.
Also, you should be especially concerned if you think that you may have worked in an industry at some point where you could have been exposed to asbestos. If so, you should go to your primary doctor and tell him about your symptoms and possible asbestos exposure. He may then need to refer you to a mesothelioma doctor specialist.
One of the challenges of diagnosing mesothelioma is for the doctor to tell the difference between mesothelioma and lung cancer. Doctors may suspect that the patient has mesothelioma based upon symptoms and work history, but these things are not enough to confirm the diagnosis.
The most reliable way to diagnose any form of mesothelioma is by a thoracoscopy. This allows the doctor to look at the chest of a patient via a very small camera and to collect a tissue sample.
To have the best chances at treatment and survival for mesothelioma, it is important for you to have as early a diagnosis as possible. After your doctor does a physical examination and reviews your medical and occupational history, he or she will probably have you undergo a variety of imaging tests to check for tumors:
- Chest x-ray: This can reveal some pleural effusions and masses for some patients.
- CT scans: This type of scan will provide a more advanced image and can usually reveal evidence of possible asbestos exposure.
- PET scans: This most advanced type of scan also can detects possible signs of the cancer spreading to the lymph nodes.
There are some other tests that can be done to fully diagnose possible mesothelioma. One of these tests is called thoracentesis; this is where the doctor will put a hollow needle into your lungs to obtain a pleural fluid sample.
Your doctor will look at the sample under a microscope. He is looking for biomarkers that suggest cancer is present. A specialist can do this type of analysis to make a diagnosis in about 80% of mesothelioma cases.
For some patients, there could be not enough pleural fluid to get a sample. So, the doctor may need to do a biopsy to collect a sample of your pleural tissue. This test can reveal mesothelioma in 98% of cases.
Once your specific type of mesothelioma and stage have been confirmed, your doctor can talk to you about treatment options. For many forms of mesothelioma, a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may provide the best prognosis.
Schedule Appointments with a Doctor and a Lawyer
If you suspect that you’re experiencing asbestos exposure symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. Once your asbestos exposure symptoms are confirmed, it is in your best interest to contact an asbestos attorney who will be able to evaluate the source of your exposure and fight to recover compensation for the damages you incurred, including past, present and future medical costs and emotional pain and suffering.
If you believe you have been exposed to unsafe levels of asbestos or are experiencing asbestos symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek the counsel and/or treatment of a qualified medical professional to discuss treatment options.
If you have developed an adverse asbestos related condition you may be eligible to file a claim to receive compensation. Please contact mesothelioma center today for a FREE consultation with an experienced asbestos attorney.