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COVID-19 in Mesothelioma Patients: Case Highlights Unusual Symptoms

COVID-19 in Mesothelioma Patients

There’s evidence that the symptoms of COVID-19 in mesothelioma patients may sometimes be different than in other people. 

Pakistani doctors say one of their mesothelioma patients developed stomach distension as a result of the coronavirus. The man also complained of severe abdominal pain.

The case highlights the need for doctors and patients to watch for unusual symptoms of COVID-19 in mesothelioma patients.

The Danger of Coronavirus for Asbestos Cancer Patients

SARS-CoV2 is the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In most symptomatic people, COVID-19 causes respiratory symptoms. Some people just get the sniffles while others develop severe breathing problems. 

People with pleural mesothelioma may be at special risk from the virus. Their lungs are already compromised by the cancer. Breathing problems are common with mesothelioma.

COVID-19 in mesothelioma patients may also be a problem because of compromised immunity. Mesothelioma treatments like chemotherapy and immunotherapy may make it harder for the body to fight a virus. 

Finally, COVID-19 seems to hit seniors especially hard. Most mesothelioma cases occur in people over 70.  One study found that more than half of lung cancer patients who get COVID-19 die of it. It is not surprising that many patients put off their mesothelioma treatment during the pandemic to avoid infection.

Understanding COVID-19 in Mesothelioma Patients

But the new case study shows COVID-19 in mesothelioma patients may not behave as expected. In the title of the article, the authors ask, “Do We Need to Think Outside the Box?”

That is because their patient was unusual in several ways. The man was just 46 years old and had advanced pleural mesothelioma. He was on chemotherapy to help with his mesothelioma symptoms

The patient came to the hospital with a painful swollen stomach but no respiratory problems. COVID-19 in mesothelioma patients can be serious, so doctors tested him just in case. They were surprised to get a positive result.

“The patient presented with no signs of respiratory compromise despite his cancer status,” writes author Muhammad Irfan. “Further confounding this presentation was the presence of his acute abdominal symptoms.”

Gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19 in mesothelioma patients are very rare. The authors say larger studies might help doctors understand what causes them. In the meantime, Dr. Irfan and his colleagues say mesothelioma doctors should not rule out coronavirus just because the symptoms are unusual.

“Physicians should therefore remain cognizant of the possibility of gastrointestinal symptoms secondary to a COVID-19 infection even in the absence of respiratory symptoms,” they write.


Irfan, M, et al, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 Presenting as Abdominal Distension in a Mesothelioma Patient: Do We Need to Think Outside the Box?”, August 22, 2020, Cureus, Case Reports, https://www.cureus.com/articles/40063

Rogado J, Pangua C, Serrano-Montero G, et al.: Covid-19 and lung cancer: a greater fatality rate?. Lung Cancer. 2020, 146:19-22, https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0169500220304682

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