The plight of an LA actress who found out she had lung cancer because of a COVID test is a sobering reminder to be aware of the early signs of pleural mesothelioma.
The woman’s story was recently featured on the Today Show website. Fifty-nine year old Annabelle Gurwitch is a non-smoker with no known lung cancer risk factors. She and her 23-year-old child decided to get COVID tests after her child came home from college.
Although the COVID test was negative, Gurwitch writes that doctors were concerned about her persistent cough. Ongoing cough can be a one of the early signs of pleural mesothelioma, too. An X-ray revealed that Gurwitch was suffering from Stage 4 lung cancer, the most common cause of cancer death in America.
Cough and Other Signs of Pleural Mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma is a lung-related cancer. It affects the membrane around the lungs called the pleura. Most people who receive a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis lived or worked around asbestos. Asbestos is a toxic mineral that can trigger DNA changes at the cellular level.
Cough that won’t go away can be an early mesothelioma symptom. As a tumor grows on the pleura, it gets harder for patients to take a deep breath. The cough is a reflexive response.
Other possible of signs of pleural mesothelioma:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Chest pain
- Chest tightness
- Respiratory complications
Pleural mesothelioma can trigger fluid collection in the space around the lungs. This fluid is called pleural effusions. The fluid may constrict the lungs, causing several of the most common signs of pleural mesothelioma.
Who Should be Worried About Mesothelioma?
Unlike other lung cancers, malignant pleural mesothelioma is extremely rare. Only about 2,500 Americans receive a mesothelioma diagnosis every year. The disease is almost unheard of in people who have not had contact with asbestos. Even then, only a small fraction of asbestos-exposed people develop mesothelioma. It is almost always fatal.
Unfortunately, it is possible to be exposed to asbestos without knowing it. People who are unaware of their exposure are more likely to ignore or dismiss the warning signs of pleural mesothelioma, just as Annabelle Gurwitch dismissed her cough.
Homeowners who do DIY projects on an older home, spouses or children of asbestos workers who touched their dusty clothes, or workers who were simply never warned can all be at risk for mesothelioma.
Although there is no way to prevent mesothelioma after asbestos exposure, knowing the signs of pleural mesothelioma can lead to earlier diagnosis. Early and aggressive intervention may improve the odds of long-term mesothelioma survival.
Gurwitch, A and Pawlowski, A, et al, “She went in for a COVID-19 test and found out she had lung cancer”, April 26, 2021, Today Show website, https://www.today.com/health/covid-19-test-leads-lung-cancer-diagnosis-annabelle-gurwitch-t216306