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Shoulder Pain: An Early Symptom of Mesothelioma?

patientThere is new evidence that mesothelioma can affect more than just the part of the body where a tumor occurs. Along with lung-related symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath, a new study suggests that shoulder pain can also be an early sign of malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Polish researchers reached that conclusion after studying the cases of 49 mesothelioma patients treated at the Central Clinical Hospital in Warsaw between 2006 and 2012. In looking over the patients’ medical records, they found that seven of the patients (14.3%) listed shoulder pain as the very first symptom of mesothelioma.

In most cases, the shoulder pain among mesothelioma patients was relatively mild, with an average severity of 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. But five of the seven patients who reported shoulder pain also said they had limited mobility in their shoulders. In one case, the limited motion and dysfunction were “at an advanced stage.”

Two of the mesothelioma patients were also found to have neuralgia, a stabbing or burning pain that occurs along a damaged nerve.

Although the study makes it clear that shoulder pain can sometimes go along with early-stage mesothelioma, what is less clear is why this pain occurs. Pleural mesothelioma grows on the membrane that surrounds the lungs, eventually restricting the ability to breathe and triggering more common symptoms like coughing, chest pain, and dyspnea (shortness of breath).

Where shoulder pain is concerned, the researchers conclude that mesothelioma may have a pleiotropic effect on the body, meaning that it can impact unrelated body systems, such as the nervous system and the motor system.

People with a history of asbestos exposure should be especially aware of shoulder pain and other potentially manifesting symptoms of mesothelioma. Read more about the symptoms of mesothelioma here.

Article originally published on March 3, 2015

Lorkowski, J et al, “Shoulder Ring Complaints as a Rare First Symptoms of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma”, February 28, 2015, Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, Epub ahead of print

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