Causes and Symptoms

Mesothelioma is a cancer that results from a genetic mutation within the cells of the body. The mutation causes healthy cells to change into malignant cells (cells that grow uncontrollably). These out-of-control cells multiply rapidly, forming tumors that interfere with the body’s functions; the tumors in turn spread more malignant cells through the entire body.

Mesothelioma appears in a variety of forms, and no universal cause of mesothelioma has been discovered. Researchers have discovered that health, lifestyle, and the environment play a significant role in the development of the disease; however, the primary cause of mesothelioma in most people is exposure to asbestos.


Asbestos is a fibrous mineral known for its durability, ease of extraction and processing, and its high resistance to heat, flame, and electric currents. It comes in many forms, including woven material, and is found in many products – especially in the manufacturing, resource extraction and processing, and home construction industries.

The toxic effects of asbestos have long been known, and most industrialized countries have placed limits on its use. Prior to the enactment of these limits, however, many people were exposed to occupational asbestos, despite the knowledge by manufacturers and employers of its dangerous nature.


Mesothelioma is not a particularly easy disease to diagnose. Its symptoms, while serious, are common and generally nonspecific. This lack of specificity may lead to a delay in diagnosis.

Common mesothelioma symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Dry coughs
  • Unusual lumps of tissue under the skin
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling of the face and neck

The classic sign of pleural mesothelioma is called effusion, which is the buildup of fluid between the pleura covering the chest wall/diaphragm and the pleura covering the lungs. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain and (sometimes) persistent cough. A thoracic radiogram (chest X-ray) is necessary for a reliable diagnosis.

Oddly, the right lung is affected by symptoms of mesolthelioma much more often (60 percent of the time) than is the left lung. The reason behind this difference is unknown. Patients with symptoms in both lungs make up only about 5 percent of the total.

Patients may also exhibit fever, night sweats and weight loss.

The symptoms of peritoneal (abdominal) mesothelioma are somewhat different: pain or swelling in the abdomen, nausea, weight loss, bowel obstruction, anemia, or swelling of the feet have all been described.