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Case Shows Swallowing Difficulty May Be Among Early Signs of Mesothelioma

Swallowing problems among early signs of mesothelioma

The case of a Spanish mesothelioma patient suggests that difficulty swallowing can be one of the rarest early signs of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that starts on the membrane lining the chest or abdomen. A swallowing problem – also called dysphagia – is not typically associated with mesothelioma.

But a recent article in a Spanish medical journal signals that it might be time to consider this symptom as one of the early signs of mesothelioma.  

Knowing the Symptoms of Mesothelioma

The two major types of malignant mesothelioma are pleural and peritoneal. Pleural mesothelioma grows on the lining around the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma grows on the lining around the abdomen.

In people with pleural mesothelioma, chest pain and breathing problems are the most common early signs of mesothelioma. A growing mesothelioma tumor may compress the lungs, causing discomfort and making it hard to get a deep breath.

Ninety percent of pleural mesothelioma patients have one or both of these symptoms as the first early signs of mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma can also trigger coughing.

Abdominal pain, bloating, and gastrointestinal problems are the most common early signs of mesothelioma on the peritoneum. Peritoneal mesothelioma makes up about a fifth of the 3,000 mesothelioma cases diagnosed in the US each year.

Exposure to asbestos is the primary cause of all types of mesothelioma.

Dysphagia as One of the Early Signs of Mesothelioma

Several different conditions can cause swallowing problems. Some of the most common causes have to do with the nervous system. These can include stroke, head injury, or dementia.

Cancer of the mouth or esophagus or reflux disease can also cause dysphagia. It is not usually one of the early signs of mesothelioma.

But in the newly-published Spanish case report, swallowing difficulty was the patient’s first indication that anything was wrong. Doctors performed an endoscopy to look at the esophagus with an internal camera. They also conducted a chest X-ray.

The team discovered a mesothelioma tumor on the back side of the patient’s esophagus between the esophagus and the lungs. The tumor had wrapped around the outside of the esophagus, making it hard for the swallowing muscles to contract.

Only 1.4% of mesothelioma patients experience dysphagia as one of the early signs of mesothelioma.

Early Mesothelioma Warning Signs

Mesothelioma is a highly lethal cancer. One reason is that there are very few early warning signs. By the time patients experience mesothelioma symptoms, it may be too late for treatment to make much difference.

Many scientists are working on better ways to spot the early signs of mesothelioma. One proposal is low dose CT scanning for asbestos-exposed people. LDCT is already being used to screen for lung cancer in heavy smokers

Studies are ongoing to see if this type of screening could reduce the number of mesothelioma deaths.


Santos Seoane, SM, et al, “An unexpected cause of dysphagia: pleural mesothelioma”, June 3, 2019, Rev Esp Enferm Dig, Epub ahead of print, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31166112

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