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Mesothelioma, asbestosis & lung cancer: what’s the difference?

On Behalf of | Oct 17, 2016 | Mesothelioma

It’s well-known that asbestos exposure can cause serious and often deadly health problems. Those who worked in industries and careers including mechanics, construction workers, electricians, railroad and shipyard workers, asbestos abatement teams, boiler operators and asbestos miners may have been exposed to asbestos and developed serious health issues. These workers and their loved ones can develop mesothelioma, asbestosis or lung cancer, but what are the differences between the three diseases?


Most of the body’s organs are lines with a protective membrane called the mesothelium, including the lungs. Mesothelioma develops in this lining, and the malignant cells grow and begin to spread to other nearby tissue, or metastasize. Although most cases of mesothelioma begin in the lungs (called pleural mesothelioma), about 25 percent develop in the abdomen and the heart.

Most of the cases are diagnosed when the cancer is already advanced, with a five-year survival rate of just 5 to 10 percent. Mesothelioma is also very rare kind of cancer, with only 3,000 cases in the U.S. diagnosed each year. Of those who pass away with mesothelioma, it’s usually as a result of pneumonia or respiratory failure, and a small amount of people die from small bowel obstruction or cardiac complications.

The most common factor for those who suffer from mesothelioma is those who worked with or around asbestos – 75% of cases are linked to people who were exposed to the material. Because asbestos is made up of tiny threads of minerals and are resistant to fire, heat, chemicals and aren’t electricity conductors, they were used heavily in building materials as well as motor vehicles. The asbestos fibers can stick to clothing and hair, which can travel with a person back home and can even cause exposure to loved ones.


Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause a chronic lung disease called asbestosis. The exposure to the asbestos fibers over a prolonged period can scar the lung tissue and result in breathing problems, ranging from mild to severe, usually 10 to 40 years after a person has been exposed.

The airborne asbestos fibers can be lodged in an exposed person’s lungs over time, which irritate and scar the lung tissue. This irritation eventually leads to scarring, and that stiffness of the lungs leads to difficulty breathing. Symptoms include shortness of breath, a dry, persistent cough, weight loss with loss of appetite, clubbed fingertips and toes and chest pain or tightness.

People who have developed asbestosis have an increased risk of developing lung cancer. There are no methods or treatments that can reverse asbestosis, but treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and help relieve symptoms. Although it is a serious disease, it’s not necessarily deadly like lung cancer or mesothelioma. Additionally, asbestosis differs from mesothelioma because it develops within the lung’s air sacs (or alveoli), not in the lung lining.

Lung cancer

Mesothelioma is much less common in the United States than lung cancer, and although the lining of the lungs and other organs are affected, mesothelioma doesn’t always spread to the lungs. Lung cancer can develop because of exposure to asbestos, but there are plenty of other reasons lung cancer can develop, including lifestyle choices like smoking as well as environmental factors like pollution.

The main difference between mesothelioma and lung cancer is that lung cancer first develops in the lung tissue; mesothelioma is developed in the lining of the lungs or other organs. Also, the diseases differ in the way they manifest in the body’s cells – lung cancer forms concentrated tumors or masses, which can often be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. However, mesothelioma affects cells in a more “cloudy” formation with cells not in concentrated areas like cancer.

Getting help

Exposure to asbestos can cause serious health problems including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. If you or a loved one worked with or were exposed to asbestos and are now suffering from related health issues, time is of the essence. It’s important to work fast as mesothelioma moves especially fast. You may be entitled to compensation, so it’s important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to know your options and get help and guidance through the legal process.


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