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Asbestosis vs Mesothelioma Cancer Risk Differences

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Asbestosis and mesothelioma are caused by inhaling tiny asbestos fibers but they are different diseases. Below is more about asbestosis and mesothelioma similarities and differences.

Comparing Asbestosis and Mesothelioma

While both diseases are caused by asbestos exposure, they are very different. The major difference is that asbestosis is not cancer and mesothelioma is. Those who have either or both diseases may wonder what the similarities and differences are: (asbestos.net)

  • Symptoms: Patients with both diseases both experience shortness of breath, especially early on. Both have a long latency period and take years after exposure until symptoms appear.
  • Treatment: Options are different because one is cancer and one is not. But both diseases have similar palliative treatments to increase comfort and quality of life.
  • Prognosis: The prognosis for asbestosis is more favorable because it is not cancer; it is possible to live for decades with this disease, but careful medical management is needed. Still, asbestosis can be a fatal disease and it is possible to develop mesothelioma later.

Asbestosis Definition

Asbestosis is a chronic respiratory disease that is caused by being exposed to asbestos for a long period of time. Inhaled asbestos fibers can lead to scarring and stiffness of the lungs, which prevents you from taking deep breaths.

Asbestosis is similar to mesothelioma in that it is caused by asbestos exposure, but it is different in severity and treatment. Asbestosis is similar to pulmonary fibrosis and can be diagnosed as such. But the difference is that pulmonary fibrosis is not caused by asbestos exposure.

Asbestosis is not cancer, but studies show that having this disease can make it more likely to get lung cancer later. Patients who have asbestosis may even get mesothelioma later. While asbestosis is not cancer, there are long-term complications that are involved with this disease. There is no cure.

How Asbestosis and Mesothelioma Develop

Asbestosis and mesothelioma are both caused by asbestos exposure. Who is at risk for mesothelioma? Those who are at the highest risk for mesothelioma, such as miners, laborers, veterans, are the same people who are at risk for asbestosis.

Another thing in common between these diseases is the latency period. It can take up to 40 years from asbestos exposure for the diseases to develop.

A major difference between the diseases is how they develop. Asbestosis develops from asbestos fibers getting suck in the alveoli – the air sacs in your lungs. Mesothelioma develops from tiny asbestos fibers getting stuck in the lung’s lining.

Asbestosis is caused by the scarring that occurs from the asbestos fibers in the alveoli. These are the tiny air sacs in your lungs where oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange takes place. Asbestosis gets worse as time goes on. The lungs get stiffer as scarring gets worse and it gets more difficult to take a deep breath.

Another big difference between them is the effects of smoking. While smoking can cause and make asbestosis worse, there are no studies that show that smoking causes mesothelioma. But smoking can make it more likely to get mesothelioma if you have been exposed to asbestos.

Mesothelioma and Asbestosis Symptoms

These diseases have many of the same symptoms. But the similarity in symptoms are not always associated with cancer. The most common symptoms of both diseases are: (Cancer.org)

  • Shortness of breath
  • Regular, dry cough
  • Weight loss
  • Chest and back pain

Mesothelioma patients have much worse symptoms as the disease gets worse. One of the symptoms that is more specific to asbestosis is clubbing of fingers and nails. This symptom is often the sign of a heart or lung problem. Nails get wider, softer and rounder. This is because the body lacks oxygen.

The scarring from asbestosis makes it hard to breathe, which means there is less oxygen in the blood. Lack of oxygen causes clubbing. Patients who have mesothelioma may have this condition, but it is rare.

Asbestosis can cause cardiac problems because the heart and lungs work together. Hypertension and heart disease are common in patients with asbestosis. So, heart problems may be an indicator of asbestosis.

Diagnosing Mesothelioma and Asbestosis

Diagnosing both diseases is similar: imaging tests. The first step is either an X-ray or CT scan. Physicians can see a difference in these scans in your lungs. There may be excessive whiteness on either imaging test result. Different states of each disease will look different on the scans. (Lung.org)

If your physician thinks you have mesothelioma, he or she may perform blood tests and biopsies to determine if you have cancer. A biopsy might be taken if you have asbestosis to check if there are cancer cells present.


Mesothelioma patients generally have a poor prognosis. Pleural (lung) mesothelioma patients usually live less than a year, while peritoneal (abdominal) mesothelioma patients may live a bit longer. Asbestosis patients typically live much longer; some people can live decades with the disease if they receive proper medical treatment.

The major downside for asbestosis patients is their lower quality of life as the disease gets worse. While the prognosis with asbestosis is better, there still were 3,200 deaths from asbestosis from 1999 to 2004 in the US.

Differences in Treatment

People with asbestosis may get pain relief treatments that are used for mesothelioma patients. But generally, there are more treatment options for asbestosis that are not used for mesothelioma. Asbestosis treatments are not as aggressive and are focused on relieving symptoms and slowing the progress of the disease. Some common treatments for asbestosis are:

  • Inhalers
  • Pulmonary drugs
  • Antibiotics
  • Breathing tanks
  • Pain drugs

Thoracentesis can be used for both asbestosis and mesothelioma patients. This is a minimally invasive procedure that drains fluid from the lungs and boosts the ability of the patient to breathe more easily. In severe cases, asbestosis patients may need a lung transplant. This is usually only when there is lung cancer present and is not an option for the mesothelioma patient.

Get Mesothelioma Legal Help Immediately

With over $30 billion available for victims through the Asbestos Trust Funds, you could be entitled to financial compensations without ever filing a lawsuit. Mesothelioma & Lung Cancer victims qualify immediately. Complete the form or call us toll-free (800) 352-0871.