Mesothelioma Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Stages

Signs and Symptoms

These symptoms may be caused by mesothelioma or by other, less serious conditions.

* chest wall pain

* pleural effusion, or fluid surrounding the lung

* shortness of breath

* wheezing, hoarseness, or cough


* abdominal pain

* ascites, or an abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen

* a mass in the abdomen

* problems with bowel function

* weight loss

* blood clots in the veins, which may cause thrombophlebitis

* disseminated intravascular coagulation, a disorder causing severe bleeding in many body organs

* jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes and skin

* low blood sugar level

* pleural effusion

* pulmonary emboli, or blood clots in the arteries of the lungs

* severe ascites


Diagnosing mesothelioma is often difficult, because the symptoms are similar to those of a number of other conditions. Diagnosis begins with a review of the patient’s medical history. A history of exposure to asbestos may increase clinical suspicion for mesothelioma. A physical examination is performed, followed by chest X-ray and often lung function tests. The X-ray may reveal pleural thickening commonly seen after asbestos exposure and increases suspicion of mesothelioma. A CT (or CAT) scan or an MRI is usually performed. If a large amount of fluid is present, abnormal cells may be detected by cytology if this fluid is aspirated with a syringe. For pleural fluid this is done by a pleural tap or chest drain, in ascites with an paracentesis or ascitic drain and in a pericardial effusion with pericardiocentesis. While absence of malignant cells on cytology does not completely exclude mesothelioma, it makes it much more unlikely, especially if an alternative diagnosis can be made (e.g. tuberculosis, heart failure).

If cytology is positive or a plaque is regarded as suspicious, a biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma. A doctor removes a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. A biopsy may be done in different ways, depending on where the abnormal area is located. If the cancer is in the chest, the doctor may perform a thoracoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor makes a small cut through the chest wall and puts a thin, lighted tube called a thoracoscope into the chest between two ribs. Thoracoscopy allows the doctor to look inside the chest and obtain tissue samples.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor may need to assess the stage to help plan treatment.

Mesothelioma is described as localized if the cancer is found only on the membrane surface where it originated. It is classified as advanced if it has spread beyond the original membrane surface to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, chest wall, or abdominal organs.

If the cancer is in the abdomen, the doctor may perform a laparoscopy. To obtain tissue for examination, the doctor makes a small opening in the abdomen and inserts a special instrument into the abdominal cavity. If these procedures do not yield enough tissue, more extensive diagnostic surgery may be necessary.

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