PLEURAL MESOTHELIOMA SYMPTOMS: EARLY DIAGNOSIS IS KEY

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By Faith Franz

November 22, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)--Very few people will ever face pleural mesothelioma. Only around 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year – but for these Americans, the symptoms of their disease can interfere with daily life.

Most patients do not even initiate the diagnostic process until they start to notice the hallmark symptoms: coughing, chest pain and difficulty breathing. However, by the time symptoms arise, the cancer is typically already at stage III or stage IV.

Unfortunately, the presenting symptoms of mesothelioma are vague, and they are not always correctly diagnosed. Some doctors misinterpret them as symptoms of a more common but less aggressive disease, such as pneumonia. This can further delay diagnosis. In one study, up to 39 months passed before an oncologist correctly identified the symptoms and referred the patient to appropriate treatment.

As the disease progresses, patients often begin to notice other complications. These include:

  • Hemoptysis (spitting up blood)
  • Pleural effusions (fluid buildups in the pleural space)
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • These symptoms often intensify throughout the progression of the cancer. However, the symptoms may not occur until several decades have passed from the time the patient encountered asbestos – the main carcinogen responsible for the development of pleural mesothelioma.

How Patients can Cope with Symptoms

Mesothelioma patients have several options for managing their symptoms. Some patients are diagnosed early enough to benefit from curative therapies. These treatments remove or kill the bulk of the tumor, which in turn reduces some of their symptoms.

Patients can also explore palliative therapies, or therapies that are designed specifically to target their symptoms. Surgeons can drain the fluid from a pleural effusion, which can temporarily relieve the coughing and discomfort caused by the buildup. Patients can turn to respiratory therapy to improve their breathing, or they may use pain medications to manage the dull ache in their chest. 

Sometimes, symptoms do not respond well to the management attempts, and they can become so severe that they interfere with the patient’s ability to handle their daily responsibilities. If the symptoms do become debilitating, pleural mesothelioma patients may reach out to home care services for assistance with cooking, cleaning or health care monitoring. They may also reach out to hospice workers or home health care aides to provide extra palliation for their symptoms.

Author bio: Faith Franz researches and writes about health-related issues for The Mesothelioma Center. One of her focuses is living with cancer.

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