Complications From Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a complex form of cancer that occurs in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or thoracic cavity. Mesothelioma carries a long list of potential complications that can make each case difficult and unique to the patient.

Mesothelioma Vets - Complications

Difficulties of Mesothelioma

After a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma, their prognosis is usually poor. The cancer itself can be challenging to treat and is impossible to cure. Though different treatment options are available on a case-by-case basis, many victims deal with complications from both the cancer and its treatment.

Complications from mesothelioma typically relate to physical difficulties from the cancer itself, like breathing, chest pains, and difficulty swallowing. Some complications can also arise from treatment, however, leading to mental and emotional difficulties for the victim.

Physical Complications

Before a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma, they usually start experiencing physical symptoms that can lead to more severe complications. Patients with pleural mesothelioma, for example, tend to experience the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain caused by pressure on the nerves and spinal cord
  • Pleural effusion (fluid buildup)

As the cancer progresses, physical complications can become more severe.

Lung Collapse

Tumors near the lungs change the pressure, leading to an unusual accumulation of air. The collection of air causes the collapse of a lung, also called pneumothorax.


Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma can experience ascites, known as the buildup of fluid accumulating in the stomach. Ascites may cause increased abdominal size, increased weight, abdominal discomfort, and shortness of breath.

Digital Clubbing

Mesothelioma patients may experience swelling of their fingers and toes, called digital clubbing, due to the reduced oxygen levels in their blood from breathing difficulties.

Rounded Atelectasis

Rounded atelectasis, or folded lung, occurs when the lung has partially collapsed. Pleural effusion and pleural thickening often triggers rounded atelectasis and usually happens after exposure to asbestos.

Treatment Complications

While treatment is meant to improve the prognosis and quality of life for mesothelioma patients, some life-threatening complications can occur.

Complications from Chemotherapy

Patients receive chemotherapy in an attempt to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. As a result, the medicine destroys healthy cells during the process. The death of healthy cells can lead to nausea, vomiting, hair loss, diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, mouth sores, constipation, bruising, and pain. Long-term complications can include heart problems and damage to lung tissue, kidneys, and nerves.

Certain chemotherapy drugs carry their own risks. Both Cisplatin and Gemcitabine can cause inflammation in the lungs, known as pneumonia. Gemcitabine is also known to cause bleeding in the lungs. Pemetrexed, the generic form of Alimta, can cause pneumonitis (inflammation of lung tissue), pneumonia, and lung tissue scarring, known as pulmonary fibrosis.

Complications from Radiation

Radiation therapy targets cancer cells in patients with high-energy particle beams, preventing them from spreading throughout the body. Some side effects of radiation include skin rashes and burns, shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, weakness, and fever. Long-term issues can consist of damage to healthy cells, damage to organs, and the development of other types of cancer.

  • Respiratory Complications of Radiation Therapy
  • Radiation pneumonitis (lung inflammation)
  • Chronic radiation fibrosis (lung tissue scarring)

Complications from Surgery

Surgery is a type of treatment commonly used to remove malignant tumors, though not all mesothelioma patients are good candidates. Only about 1-5 percent of mesothelioma patients are eligible for surgery. Complications may occur in the few patients who undergo surgery. Bleeding, infections, blood clots, and tissue damage are all possible complications of mesothelioma surgery. Pneumonia and loss of lung function are more severe complications of surgery.

Common respiratory complications from surgery:

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (lung failure)
  • Bronchial air leaks (air leaking from lungs)
  • Hemothorax (internal bleeding around the lungs)
  • Mediastinal shift (shifting of organs inside the chest)
  • Pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs)
  • Pulmonary embolism (blood clotting in the lungs

Cardiac arrhythmias, known as irregular heartbeats, are the most common medical complication associated with surgery involving mesothelioma patients. Abnormal heart rates can increase the risk of blood clots in the brain and blood vessels throughout the body.

Emotional and Mental Complications

While mesothelioma itself causes physical complications, the diagnosis can lead to adverse emotional and mental complications.

Emotional and mental complications of mesothelioma can influence patients to experience:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Loneliness
  • Stress

The mental health of mesothelioma patients often affects physical health. Complications like depression and anxiety can lower a patient’s quality of life, in addition to physical side effects from treatment.

More Information

A mesothelioma diagnosis comes with extra complications from both the disease and treatment. If you have mesothelioma, it’s important to know how these complications can affect your specific prognosis. More treatment information.