6 Min Read
Last Updated: 04/25/2024
Fact Checked

Written by Karen Selby, RN | Medically Reviewed By Dr. Jeffrey Velotta | Edited By Walter Pacheco

What Causes Mesothelioma Pain?

Mesothelioma tumors cause pain as they grow and push against sensitive nerves or vital organs. As mesothelioma cancer progresses, fluid buildup can lead to pain with activity, breathing, coughing and eating.

Advanced or metastatic mesothelioma can cause bone or muscle pain as tumors spread throughout the body. Mesothelioma back pain, joint stiffness and body aches become more likely. Doctors can ease these symptoms through palliative surgery or radiation therapy. If left untreated, severe or chronic pain leads to feelings of anxiety and depression.

More than 60% of pleural mesothelioma patients report chest pain. Between 30% and 50% of peritoneal patients have abdominal pain. Mesothelioma pain can be more challenging to treat than pain from other types of cancer. Report all your mesothelioma symptoms to your doctor. It will help them prescribe the right treatments.

Specific mesothelioma treatments may also be a source of pain for some patients. Chemotherapy medications, radiation treatments and surgeries can damage healthy tissue and create discomfort. 

Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma Pain

While mesothelioma pain is a symptom of cancer, there are other symptoms of mesothelioma caused by the cancer. Depression and changes in sleep and appetite can disrupt or impair quality of life. 

Common symptoms of mesothelioma pain
Pain and coughing are among the early signs of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma pain is often distributed through the chest or abdomen.
  • Loss in Appetite: Pain can cause nausea or digestive issues that hinder appetite. Taste changes and dry mouth make eating seem less appealing.
  • Back Pain: Decreased activity, fatigue and poor sleep can lead to upper and lower back pain. Mesothelioma back pain limits daily activities and impairs even the most basic abilities.
  • Sleep Disruption: It can be challenging to fall asleep or stay asleep when mesothelioma pain is high. Poor sleep can cause stress, depression, weight loss and more.
  • Fatigue: Constant pain is exhausting and limits the amount of energy you have throughout the day. Pain and poor sleep or appetite may result in debilitating fatigue.
  • Physical Activity Difficulties: As pain impacts sleep and energy levels, physical activity get challenging. It may limit your ability to exercise or perform daily chores and routines.
  • Mood Changes: Managing constant pain often leads to feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and hopelessness. It’s essential to seek help for cancer’s social and emotional aspects, not the physical symptoms.

Pain can create significant disruptions in daily life. But many treatment approaches for mesothelioma pain can ease your symptoms and improve energy and mood.

Women holding her chest, dealing with body pain, fatigue and other cancer symptoms
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Mesothelioma Pain Treatments

Pain medication works for most cancer patients but not for everyone. Options such as palliative surgery or procedures can reduce pain without drugs. For example, fluid buildup in the chest or abdomen may cause pain. An outpatient procedure or minor surgery to drain the fluid can reduce pressure and pain.

Pain symptoms may also show issues with ongoing treatment. Abdominal pain led to the diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency in a mesothelioma patient. The pain was a side effect of nivolumab treatment, a 2021 report showed. Talking to your doctor about pain management is integral to every mesothelioma treatment plan.

  • Pain Medication: Doctors recommend starting with over-the-counter products. Ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) work for mild pain. If pain is moderate, doctors may combine weak opioids with medications. These include anticonvulsants, anti-inflammatories or topical lidocaine patches. Doctors replace weak opioids with more potent opioids such as morphine when pain is severe.
  • Regional or Local Anesthesia: Anesthesiologists can administer local and regional pain blockers or steroids. While the effects are sometimes short lived, these injections can improve mesothelioma back pain. This procedure is also repeatable and available at most pain management practices.
  • Palliative Chemotherapy: Doctors can prescribe chemotherapy without the expectation of curing cancer. The treatment approach known as palliative care focuses on shrinking tumors that cause pain to improve quality of life. Palliative chemotherapy is often a lower dose or given over a shorter period than traditional chemotherapy.
  • Palliative Radiation: Radiation therapy is a pain management option for some pleural mesothelioma patients. It can shrink tumors and limit pain. Radiation therapy provides pain relief in about half of patients, according to a 2016 study in the journal Pain Medicine.
  • Palliative Surgery and Procedures: Mesothelioma specialists sometimes perform non-invasive palliative surgeries. They focus on removing tumors responsible for extreme pain in one area, such as the lungs or kidneys. Palliative surgery helps make breathing easier or reduces back pain. Other procedures, such as thoracentesis, drain excess fluid to reduce pressure. A nerve block procedure can inhibit nerve pathways that carry pain signals to the brain.
  • Complementary Approaches: Breathing exercises, massage or electrical stimulation may complement pain medication and palliative procedures. Art and music therapy can distract patients from pain. It also helps them find new hobbies or interests. These approaches do not end pain on their own. But research supports their effectiveness in helping cancer patients better cope with pain.
  • Psychological Techniques: Emotions can limit us from working or participating in social activities. This leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Anxiety and depression can worsen mesothelioma pain. Chronic pain can deepen those negative feelings. Look for distractions and find strategies to manage fatigue. You can also reach out to others for support.

Some patients worry that taking prescription opioids will lead to addiction or over-sedation. Pain relief from opioids often allows patients to resume their normal daily activities. Often, a cancer patient’s quality of life is better with opioids than without them. You can review the risks and benefits of opioid treatment with your healthcare provider.

Every mesothelioma cancer patient experiences pain in unique ways. There are many treatment options and delivery methods. A pain patch or oral pain medication help patients to cope with mesothelioma pain. Ask for a referral to a pain management clinic if you feel overwhelmed by your pain.

Importance of Communication With Your Doctor

An essential part of pain management is communication. Keep your doctors informed of your pain medications’ effectiveness and side effects. A daily journal is a helpful tool for recording what you’ve tried and describing what’s working and what isn’t. 

Ask a pharmacists if you have questions about the safety of a pain management approach. 

Mesothelioma back pain, body aches and abdominal issues disrupt life in many ways. These symptoms can cause problems such as insomnia, stress, fatigue and feelings of anxiety and depression. Discuss these issues with a doctor to limit pain before it becomes overwhelming.

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