Chest pain can be an indicator of numerous conditions, as in the case of mesothelioma. Between exposure to asbestos and the first signs of the disease, it can take decades for symptoms to appear, but patients with pleural and pericardial mesothelioma often experience persistent chest pain due to the spreading of cancer. One of the reasons is the fact the disease prevents the lungs and heart from functioning properly. Breathing or pumping the blood becomes more difficult, which results in severe chest pain. Localized pain is often related to mesothelioma growth, while generalized pain is more associated with widespread cell damage.
Shortness of breath
About 70% of the patients with the disease suffer from pleural mesothelioma. Shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms, but it is not always constant. The most common reason for the symptom is pleural effusion, which consists of fluid buildup occurring in the space between the two layers of the pleura. Pleural effusions are progressive and they begin to occupy the space in the lungs, causing shortness of breath. As the disease progresses, the shortness of breath becomes more severe.
Reduced chest expansion
It can take from 20 to 50 years between asbestos exposure and the onset of mesothelioma symptoms. The signs of the disease differ according to its form and reduced chest expansion is related to pleural mesothelioma. Reduced chest expansion is often a symptom of advanced stages of the disease and it’s caused by a lack of space in the chest. This problem is usually the result of severe pleural effusions, which is a symptom of mesothelioma and is related to inflammation of the lung from a tumor growth. Pleural effusions consist of a large amount of fluid accumulated between the lungs and chest cavity.
Faint or harsh breathing sounds
About 75% of all patients with this type of cancer are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, which occurs when the asbestos fibers travel to the lining of the lungs (the pleura) and irritate the cells. The process can take decades between the exposure to the mineral and the development of symptoms. As the tumors progress, patients start experiencing respiratory problems, which are usually interconnected. The tumors grow and start causing pressure in the lungs and chest cavity and there is also the possibility of a build-up of fluid. This causes pain and difficulties in breathing, which explains the abnormal breathing sounds.
Dry cough and wheezing
Coughing is the way the body removes foreign material or mucus from the lungs and airways, or the reaction to an irritated airway. While an occasional cough is normal, when it is persistent it can indicate an underlying problem. Similarly, wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound people make while breathing and indicates respiratory problems. In the case of mesothelioma, it is more common among patients who suffer from pleural mesothelioma. In the early stages of the disease, the symptoms are mild, including persistent coughing and/or wheezing and may be mistaken for other lung diseases.
However, in late stages of pleural mesothelioma, the symptoms become more specific and severe, including persistent coughing together with coughing up blood (hemoptysis) and wheezing.
The pleura is the lining which covers the lungs, and while pleural effusions are more common among patients with pleural mesothelioma, they can also occur in patients who suffer from other forms of the disease. Pleural effusions are large amounts of fluid that accumulate between the lungs and the chest cavity. In healthy patients, a small amount of lubricating fluid is present in the pleura, pericardium, and peritoneum. The fluid keeps the organs moist and when it exceeds its normal level (about a couple of teaspoons) it is naturally expelled.
However, in patients with mesothelioma, the fluid may not be properly evacuated and it accumulates in the mesothelium.
Coughing up blood
Asbestos, which is a natural mineral widely used in construction and other industries for over a century, can remain harmless for years, but fibers are released into the air as it interacts with other materials. These fibers are inhaled or swallowed and the body has difficulties in expelling them. In the case of pleural mesothelioma, the asbestos fibers stay trapped in the pleura (the name given to the lining of the lungs) and irritate the mesothelial cells, causing the formation of tumors. This process that can take decades.
The majority of the symptoms of mesothelioma are interconnected and hemoptysis can originate in the trachea, bronchi or lungs. There are different levels of hemoptysis, and a minor event occurs when a patient has persistent coughing and a blood vessel ruptures, which causes a small amount of blood to be expectorated. However, major or massive hemoptysis refers to coughing up more than six hundred milliliters or two-and-a-half cups of blood over the course of a day. In this case, the situation is more concerning since it can result in asphyxiation if the lungs become full of blood. Regardless of the amount, coughing up blood should be reported to a physician, who can analyze the causes for it.
The main area of the body affected by the cancer is the pleura, which is a thin membrane responsible for lubricating the lungs and chest walls. It can take decades for the first signs to manifest, but body aches can be experienced by patients even during the first stage of pleural mesothelioma. During stage I of the disease, the tumors are very small and localized while the symptoms are almost unnoticeable. However, the presence of pleural effusion, which is the buildup of fluid in the layers of the pleura, starts causing some symptoms such as body aches. These aches are particularly severe in the chest, but can also affect other parts of the body.
Blood clotting disorders
Peritoneal mesothelioma occurs when a person inhales or swallows asbestos fibers that travel through the digestive and lymphatic systems or blood flow to the abdomen. There, the body is unable to properly expel the fibers and the cells become irritated, causing the formation of tumors. When the cancerous cells affect the tissue around the abdominal cavity, they put pressure on organs like the stomach, causing difficulties in the normal blood flow. Since the blood cannot properly flow through the body, blood clots are formed and consequently the body starts to lose its normal ability to clot the blood.