Unfortunately, there is no single symptom or sign that can definitively tell doctors of the presence of mesothelioma. Compared to other health conditions or disease processes, mesothelioma does not have any pathognomonic signs, or signs specifically characteristic or indicative of a particular disease or condition. For example, seeing a bronze discoloration on the skin will always tell doctors that the patient has Addison’s disease or a child who has Koplik’s spots in the insides of his mouth will always indicate measles. Mesothelioma does not have any of this sort of sign or symptom so early detection really is difficult.
The major concern of doctors, therefore, is that since there are no signs or symptoms that are really specific to mesothelioma, people who may have the cancer may simply brush it off as a symptom of another disease. Take a look at the following common manifestations and you can begin to understand why it is quite a challenge to determine the presence of mesothelioma.
Dry cough is present in any respiratory condition that irritates the airway passages. Wheezing is more closely associated to asthmatics while shortness of breath or difficulty breathing can both have respiratory or cardiac implications. Everyone can have an upset stomach every once in a while producing abdominal pain. Fever always signals an infection or inflammation. It is clear that identifying mesothelioma is not really that easy because the symptoms can often mean different things.
The only way your doctor can help you zero-in on the possibility of mesothelioma is if you can point out any history of possible exposure to asbestos or any asbestos-containing product or infrastructure. This should alert your doctor to the possibility of mesothelioma. Your doctor can then run several diagnostic tests to help confirm the presence of mesothelioma. It should be understood that the earlier the diagnosis, the wider the treatment options, and the better the chances at survival.
The respiratory manifestations of pleural mesothelioma mimic other respiratory conditions. Nevertheless, a 2011 study of some 221 patients with pleural mesothelioma revealed the following:
Other manifestations of pleural mesothelioma include abnormal breath sounds, body aches, dry cough, problems in blood clotting, reduced chest expansion, and wheezing.
The manifestations of peritoneal mesothelioma are generally confined to the abdominal region. While it only accounts for about 20 percent of all mesothelioma cases, early identification can be quite difficult because of the similarities of its symptoms to other disease processes. A 2009 study of 119 patients with peritoneal mesothelioma revealed the following:
Other manifestations of peritoneal mesothelioma include abdominal distention, hernias, feeling of fullness, abdominal tenderness, abdominal swelling, bowel obstruction, and fatigue. Bowel obstruction is almost always taken as a sign of mesothelioma proliferation away from its original location.
One of two very rare types of mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma affects less than 2 percent of all patients diagnosed with mesothelioma. The tumor cell primarily targets the pericardial sac which covers the heart itself. It is believed that pericardial mesothelioma is an offshoot of pleural mesothelioma through migration of the tumor cell via the lymphatics that drain into the superior vena cava and finds its way into the pericardial sac, although it is quite impossible to establish the validity of such claims owing to the very rare nature of pericardial mesothelioma. Nonetheless, the symptoms always mimic that of cardiac problems such as chest pain and difficulty breathing.
The second of two types of mesothelioma that are very rare, testicular mesothelioma affects less than 1 percent of all individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma. The only manifestation that can come close to diagnosing testicular mesothelioma is a lump in the testes although there are other diseases that may cause such manifestation. These can include varicoceles, epididymal cysts, hydroceles, epididymo-orchitis, inguinal hernias, and testicular torsion.
Because the common manifestations of mesothelioma can point to other disease entities, it will already be too late by the time the individual recognizes the signs of a possible mesothelioma. By then, the clinical manifestations of an advanced mesothelioma will already be apparent although still not pathognomonic. These manifestations often represent the migration and proliferation of the primary mesothelioma tumor cells to other body organs and cavities. The clinical manifestations of advanced mesothelioma include the following:
Currently there are two issues that pose as challenges to doctors. These include the difficulty in detecting early manifestations of mesothelioma and the resulting misdiagnosis of potential mesothelioma symptoms.
Many individuals look at the various symptoms of mesothelioma primarily as signs of respiratory or gastric problems partly because they are not yet fully familiar with mesothelioma. Since asbestos exposure plays a major role in mesothelioma development, individuals who have been exposed to asbestos should seriously consider having mesothelioma in the absence of other more conclusive evidence.
Some doctors who may have not identified asbestos exposure or any other mesothelioma risk factor can also make a wrong diagnosis such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma. In pericardial mesothelioma, coronary artery disease or even congestive heart failure may be misdiagnosed.
People who have any of these symptoms and have been exposed to asbestos should seek more definitive tests at the earliest possible time. The sooner mesothelioma is detected, the better the chances of survival.