Complications From Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a complex form of cancer that occurs in the lining of the chest, heart, and abdominal cavities. Mesothelioma carries a long list of potential complications that can make each case difficult and unique.

Doctor talking to veteran about possible complications.

What Are the Complications of Mesothelioma?

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

Mesothelioma Complication Difficulties

After a patient or veteran is diagnosed with mesothelioma, the prognosis is often 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 patients deal with complications from both cancer and its treatment.

From Physical Activity

Before a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma, they usually start experiencing physical symptoms. 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 cancer progresses, physical mesothelioma complications can become more severe potentially causing:

  • Lung collapse – Tumors near the lungs change their air pressure, leading to an unusual accumulation of air. The collection of air causes the collapse of a lung, also called pneumothorax.
  • Ascites – Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma can experience a buildup of fluid accumulating in the stomach (called ascites). It 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 (digital clubbing) due to the reduced oxygen levels in their blood from breathing difficulties.
  • Rounded atelectasis – Rounded atelectasis (known as folded lung) occurs when the lung has partially collapsed. Pleural effusion and pleural thickening often triggers folded lung and usually happen after exposure to asbestos.

Veterans who were diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible for VA compensation. To find out if you qualify, speak with a patient advocate today.

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Mesothelioma Complications From Treatment

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


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.

Additionally, certain chemotherapy drugs carry their own risks. Both Cisplatin and Gemcitabine can cause inflammation in the lungs (commonly 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.


Radiation therapy targets cancer cells 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. Other forms of potential radiation damage include radiation pneumonitis (lung inflammation) and chronic radiation fibrosis (lung tissue scarring).


Surgery is a type of treatment commonly used to remove tumors, though not all mesothelioma patients are good candidates. Only about 1 to 5 percent of mesothelioma patients are eligible for surgery. Too, 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 throughout the body.

Veterans with mesothelioma can take action without affecting their benefits.

(833) 637-6838

A woman calling regarding her previous exposure to asbestos.

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 a cancer diagnosis can cause patients to feel:

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

In addition to emotions, the mental health of patients often affects physical health. Complications like depression and anxiety can lower a patient’s quality of life. Contact the SAMHSA National Hotline for crisis concerns for yourself or someone else.