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What are the symptoms?

The first signs of mesothelioma are often vague and similar to other conditions. If you are concerned, see your general practitioner (GP). It may take some time to be diagnosed, as the symptoms may come and go, and more common conditions are likely to be investigated first. Let your GP know if you may have been exposed to asbestos in the past. Finding mesothelioma early will mean you have more treatment options.

Pleural mesothelioma may cause:

  • shortness of breath (breathlessness), which usually feels worse with activity or when you are lying down
  • pain in the chest around the ribs or in the shoulder, which may be sharp and stabbing, made worse by breathing in deeply, or dull and persistent
  • extra sensitive skin or change in skin sensation
  • general symptoms such as loss of appetite with weight loss; loss of muscle bulk; loss of energy; a persistent cough or a change in coughing pattern; and night sweats.

Peritoneal mesothelioma may cause abdominal pain; a swollen abdomen; poor appetite, nausea and vomiting; night sweats or fever; and bowel or urinary  problems.

Which health professionals will I see?

If mesothelioma is diagnosed, the specialist will consider treatment options. These are often discussed with other health professionals at what is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting. Some people are diagnosed and treated in specialist centres in major cities around Australia. To find a specialist centre
near you, ask your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

If you live in a rural or regional area, or find it difficult to travel far, your GP can provide care and discuss further options with an MDT from a specialist centre.

GPassists you with treatment decisions and works in partnership with your specialists in providing ongoing care
respiratory (thoracic) physiciandiagnoses diseases of the lungs, including pleural mesothelioma, and recommends ways to treat symptoms
gastroenterologistdiagnoses and treats disorders of the digestive system, including peritoneal mesothelioma
radiologistanalyses x-rays and scans; an interventional radiologist may also perform a biopsy under ultrasound or CT, and deliver some treatments
pathologistexamines cells and tissue samples to work out the type and extent of mesothelioma
thoracic (respiratory) surgeonconducts some biopsy procedures and performs surgery to prevent and treat symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, including radical surgery
surgical oncologist/general surgeonperforms surgery to prevent and treat symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma
medical oncologisttreats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy (systemic treatment)
radiation oncologisttreats cancer by prescribing and overseeing a course of radiation therapy
palliative care specialisttreats pain and other symptoms to maximise wellbeing and improve quality of life
palliative care teamwork closely with the GP and oncologist to help control symptoms such as pain, breathlessness, nausea and anxiety, and maintain quality of life
nurseadministers drugs and provides care, support and information throughout treatment
cancer care coordinatorcoordinates your care, liaises with other members of the MDT and supports you and your family throughout treatment; care may also be coordinated by a clinical nurse consultant (CNC) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
community nursevisits you at home to provide medical care and treatment, assesses your needs for supportive care, and liaises with your GP and MDT as required
dietitianrecommends an eating plan to follow while you are in treatment and recovery
physiotherapist, exercise physiologist, occupational therapistassist with physical and practical problems, including restoring movement and mobility after treatment and recommending aids and equipment
social workerlinks you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical and financial issues
psychologisthelps you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed August 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Brian McCaughan, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Theodora Ahilas, Principal Lawyer, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, NSW; Prof David Ball, Director, Lung Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Shirley Bare, Consumer; Cassandra Dickens, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Care Coordinator – Thoracic Malignancies, Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Penny Jacomos, Social Worker, Asbestos Diseases Society of South Australia, SA; A/Prof Thomas John, Medical Oncologist, Senior Clinical Research Fellow, Austin Health, and Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, VIC; Victoria Keena, Executive Officer, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, NSW; Penny Lefeuvre, Consumer; Jocelyn McLean, Mesothelioma Support Coordinator, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, NSW; Prof David Morris, Peritonectomy Surgeon, St George Hospital and University of New South Wales, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Western Australia; Prof Anna Nowak, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine and Pharmacology, The University of Western Australia, WA; Prof Jennifer Philip, Palliative Care Specialist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC; Nicole Taylor, Acting Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma Cancer Specialist Nurse, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.