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Was your parent harmed by asbestos exposure? 3 things to know about mesothelioma symptoms

As the adult child of an aging parent, you're probably helping out your mom or dad with various tasks already.

Some of these are easier than others. But if your dad worked for the TVA, for Combustion Engineering, the Dupont plant or in another job where he was exposed to asbestos, you may be asking a difficult question: Has exposure to asbestos caused mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease?

Here are three important things to know in recognizing the symptoms of mesothelioma.

There is more than one form of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a six-syllable word for a very nasty form of cancer. It's pronounced me-soe-thee-lee-O-muh and refers to cancer of a layer of tissue in the body called the mesothelium. This layer of tissue is thin, but it covers most of the internal organs.

The most common area affected is the lungs. The term for this is pleural mesothelioma because "pleura" refers to the thin lining of lungs.

Less common types of mesothelioma affect linings in or around the abdomen and heart. The term for this is peritoneal mesothelioma because the layer of tissue that lines the abdomen and covers the organs it contains is called the peritoneum.

There are also rare forms of mesothelioma, such as pericardial mesothelioma (involving tissue around the heart).

Symptoms depend on various factors, including the type of mesothelioma and where in the body the cancer has occurred.

For pleural mesothelioma, common symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath and painful coughs. Other symptoms are unexplained weight loss and tissue lumps below the skin of the chest.

Unexplained weight loss can also be a symptom of peritoneal mesothelioma. Other symptoms include tissue lumps, pain or swelling in the abdomen.

Symptoms are affected by how far along the mesothelioma is (was it caught early or late?) and whether the malignancy has spread elsewhere, such as to the lymph nodes or other organs.

Symptoms of mesothelioma take a long time to appear after asbestos exposure.

When evaluating your parent's symptoms, the doctor will need to know whether there was asbestos exposure. It is critical for you and your parent to inform the doctor of the details of the exposure.

Keep in mind, symptoms of mesothelioma usually take decades to appear. In many cases, the exposure occurred over a long period time. It is less common, but it also possible for someone who was exposed for only a short time to get malignant mesothelioma.

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