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What are the first signs of mesothelioma?

Every year, roughly 800 Australians are diagnosed and as many die from mesothelioma, a malignant and fatal cancer that attacks the lining around major organs. The cause of mesothelioma is almost always asbestos exposure. Asbestos was mined in Australia for decades, and products manufactured with asbestos were used in many industries, including construction.

Companies and employers knew of the risks of inhaling or ingesting microscopic particles of asbestos fiber, but failed to warn employees about the risks or put protective measures in place. This behaviour means that if you have received a diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma or peritoneal mesothelioma, you are likely entitled to compensation.

Mesothelioma compensation can be awarded to you or to your surviving spouse and family. It’s important to be aware of the early signs of mesothelioma and to keep your doctors informed of your history of asbestos exposure, because once you are diagnosed with this dust disease, it typically moves very swiftly.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a fast-moving cancer that causes tumors to grow on the mesothelial cells, which make up the lining around your internal organs. There are four types of mesothelioma, each affecting the lining around a different organ or set of organs:

  • Pleural mesothelioma (around the lungs and chest wall)
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma (around the abdominal organs)
  • Pericardial mesothelioma (around the heart)
  • Testicular mesothelioma (around the testicles)


Pleural mesothelioma makes up roughly 90% of cases. Peritoneal mesothelioma makes up most of the remaining 10%, with pericardial and testicular mesothelioma making up less than a percent of each of the cases. Rarely, a woman will have mesothelioma around her ovaries.

Mesothelioma causes

When asbestos fibres are inhaled, they swiftly travel to the pleura, or lining of the lungs. These microscopic fibres are many times smaller and thinner than a human hair. Once lodged, they stay in place, causing slow-building irritation and permanent scarring of healthy mesothelial tissue.

These changes affect the mesothelial tissue on the cellular level. As long as 20 to 50 years after initial exposure, even if it was only one instance of inhaling asbestos fibres, cells can begin to multiply. Mesothelioma tumours form on the lining surrounding the lungs, and slowly grow and connect to form a kind of sheath.

If asbestos fibres are ingested (by breathing into the mouth and swallowing), they can travel to the peritoneal tissue and cause tumor growth there instead. If fibres work their way through the body to the reproductive organs or heart sac, thickening of tissues causes compression and noticeable symptoms.

Eventually, the cancer cells can spread to various sites across the body and systems begin to shut down. There is no cure for mesothelioma, and the best that can be done is to try and slow progression of the disease and provide relief from the many symptoms.

You can develop mesothelioma regardless of whether you smoke, or smoked in the past. Mesothelioma isn’t the same as lung cancer. However, smoking can worsen your symptoms and make breathing more difficult.

Mesothelioma symptoms

Some types of mesothelioma have similar symptoms, such as fatigue, appetite loss, and weight loss. Other signs of malignant mesothelioma are specific to the affected tissues and organs.

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms in the early stages can resemble other respiratory diseases, and include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Reduced chest expansion
  • Dry cough
  • Unexplained wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fever


Early symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma can present like many gastrointestinal issues, due to compression. Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation

Pericardial mesothelioma is caused by thickening of the pericardium, which is also a hallmark of other diseases. This makes it doubly important for you to tell your doctor if you’ve ever been exposed to asbestos if you have symptoms such as:

  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing) or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Heart murmurs
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)

Testicular mesothelioma is extremely rare and can be mistaken for other forms of testicular cancer if you don’t let your doctor know you had asbestos exposure. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling in the testicles due to fluid (hydrocele) or tissue inflammation
  • Testicular pain
  • A scrotal lump


Since mesothelioma tumors can easily be misdiagnosed as other diseases, you need to make sure that every doctor you see knows you were exposed to asbestos, no matter how many years ago your exposure was.

The mesothelioma timeline

There is typically an extended latency period between a patient’s first exposure to asbestos and the onset of the first mesothelioma symptom. This interval is almost always at least 20 years, and may be as long as or longer than 50 years.

Having a history of asbestos exposure should put you and your doctor on alert if you start experiencing symptoms similar to those of lung cancer. Any type of respiratory problem such as a persistent cough with pleural involvement should be carefully monitored and explored in case it is early signs of mesothelioma.

Diagnosis of mesothelioma is usually made via a needle biopsy or through key-hole surgery, prompted by the appearance of symptoms and the knowledge that an individual had former asbestos exposure. The speed of the illness is extremely fast: malignant mesothelioma can significantly shorten life span once symptoms appear, and death can occur within as little as weeks after diagnosis.

This is why it is so important to seek the help of an experienced mesothelioma attorney and file a mesothelioma claim as soon after diagnosis as possible. There is no statute of limitations for mesothelioma cases in regard to the date of asbestos exposure, but different rules apply across Australia based on the date of diagnosis. You may need to file within six or 12 months of your official diagnosis of asbestos-related disease to receive compensation under different schemes.

Initial symptoms to look for

Since mesothelioma manifests at first as tiny nodules on the lining of the lungs or abdomen, symptoms may not come on immediately. When they do, it can be easy to mistake them as symptoms of more common diseases. By then, the dust disease may already be well advanced.

In the early stages of mesothelioma, nodules can begin to form and the lining around the affected organ begins to thicken. There may be no symptoms at all, or you might have some pleural effusion (fluid buildup) in the lungs as an early symptom.

Usually, shortness of breath, wheezing and chest or abdominal pain don’t manifest until the lining is saturated with tumors and pressure builds up on the organs and nerves. Anemia, weight loss, fatigue and increasing pain are hallmarks of the later stages of mesothelioma.

If the tumors surround the lungs, the pain is mostly in the chest and may radiate to the shoulder. You could have difficulty swallowing. If tumors are in the abdomen, abdominal pain and gastrointestinal symptoms are likely, and you may experience bowel obstruction.

Making a dust disease claim

All states and territories require that a mesothelioma claim be lodged within your lifetime. If you are diagnosed when you are already in late stages of the disease, your mesothelioma lawyers can visit you at home and gather the evidence required from your doctor and other sources to file your claim.

Most mesothelioma claims are settled quickly, within three to six months of filing. Even if you pass on before the claim is settled, your legal team will continue to work to secure a settlement for your family. If you remain a patient being treated for asbestos-related cancer.

Your asbestos attorney can leverage your mesothelioma diagnosis for both a civil (common law) claim against a former employer. They may also be able to file a statutory claim to receive a settlement for a fund set up to compensate victims of asbestos exposure when former employers are long gone. Your case may qualify for both types of claims.

Our firm is experienced with helping mesothelioma patients file claims with the specific focus on covering their medical bills and providing for the surviving family they leave behind. If you remain a patient undergoing treatment for mesothelioma, you may be entitled to both a lump sum settlement and ongoing coverage for medical costs.

If you are suffering any symptoms which could be related to mesothelioma, and have a history of asbestos exposure, you need to visit your doctor right away. Push for investigation of your health to determine if you have mesothelioma or another asbestos-related cancer. Then contact us for no-obligation legal advice about your claim.


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Gerard Malouf & Partners have provided friendly, experienced legal advice to communities across Australia for over 35 years. Our Personal Injury Lawyers have taken on ten’s of thousands of cases and we are proud to have won billions of dollars for our clients.
Meet the diverse and dynamic team of compensation lawyers and supporting staff that have made this all happen below. Our multi-lingual team can discuss your claims in Arabic, Assyrian, Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, Serbian, Croatian, Armenian, Mandarin, Hindi, Punjabi or Malayalam.
Meet the diverse and dynamic team of compensation lawyers and supporting staff that have made this all happen below. Our multi-lingual team can discuss your claims in Arabic, Assyrian, Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, Serbian, Croatian, Armenian, Mandarin, Hindi, Punjabi or Malayalam.

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