Symptoms and diagnosis of mesothelioma

Signs of mesothelioma

Symptoms of mesothelioma can take anything from 10 to 60 years to appear. In the early stages of the disease small lumps appear, but these are unlikely to cause symptoms.

Most patients will go to the GP complaining of:

  • Breathing problems – usually they come on gradually

  • Chest pain – at the side of the tumour

Other symptoms include:

  • Cough

  • Loss of appetite

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Weight loss

  • Tiredness

  • Hoarseness

  • Sweating

Diagnosis of mesothelioma

It is not easy to diagnose mesothelioma. If your doctor suspects that you have it, he or she will ask you to go for tests to make sure of the diagnosis.

You may need some of the following tests:

  • Chest X-ray

  • CT scan

  • Pleural aspiration

  • Thoroscopy

  • Biopsy

  • Bronchoscopy

  • Mediastinoscopy

Chest X-ray

Mesothelioma does not always show up on a chest X-ray, especially in the early stages. But a chest X-ray may be able to show a pleural effusion. This is a build-up of fluid in between the pleura. Your doctor may arrange further tests to find out what is causing the fluid build-up.

CT scan

A CT scan gives a more accurate picture of what’s going on inside your chest. It does this by taking many X-rays of inside your body. This allows your doctor to see where your disease is and if it has spread. For a CT scan, you must not eat for some time beforehand and lie still while being scanned. But the test is not painful. It normally lasts 10–30 minutes. Your doctor or nurse will explain it to you in more detail.

Sometimes your doctor will inject a dye into your vein or ask you to drink some. This makes it easier to see the inside of your body. You may feel heat rising from your chest into your head after the dye has entered your body. This is a strange sensation but does not last long. If you have asthma or any drug allergy, it is important to tell your doctor beforehand.

Pleural aspiration

A sample of the fluid from inside your chest may be needed to prove the build-up is due to mesothelioma. This is called a pleural aspiration. Your doctor will put a small needle into your chest and inject some local anaesthetic. This numbs the area and makes sure the test is not too painful.

Your doctor will then put another needle in and remove some fluid using a syringe. This fluid is sent to a laboratory to be checked. Based on this, mesothelioma can be diagnosed.


Sometimes your doctor may need to do further tests before making a diagnosis. It is often very useful for your doctor to look inside your chest using a telescope. This is called a thoracoscopy. For the test, you will be put to sleep beforehand. Your doctor will make a cut between two ribs and put the thorascope in. This allows him or her to see if the pleura appear normal. During a thoracoscopy, your doctor can take biopsies of the tissue and an aspiration of any fluid present.


During a thoracoscopy, your doctor can take small amounts of tissue samples from the pleura. These are called biopsies. Biopsies are then sent to a laboratory and looked at under a microscope. Bronchoscopy During a bronchoscopy, a small tube with a camera is passed down your airway either through your nose or your mouth. Your doctor will give you an injection into your vein to sedate you beforehand. He or she then passes the tube right down into your lungs and can take biopsies from the lung tissue.


A mediastinoscopy is like a thoracoscopy, except your doctor can look at your lymph glands in your chest as well. This is to check if the disease has spread or not. The lymph glands in the chest are the most likely place that mesothelioma will spread to. Again you will be put to sleep beforehand. Your doctor will make a small cut at the base of your neck and put the telescope in. Biopsies of this tissue can also be taken.

Learn more about the above tests.

Read next: Treatment for mesothelioma

Date Last Reviewed: 
Tuesday, December 11, 2018