Mesothelioma is cancer of the membrane that lines the organs and body cavities. This membrane, called the mesothelium, can develop cancer decades after a person is exposed to asbestos. It is estimated that three out of four mesothelioma cases involve the lungs and chest cavity. (WebMD.com).
Mesothelioma is one of the worst cancers you can have. Most of the time, mesothelioma is diagnosed in the late stages such as stage 4 mesothelioma, and the five-year survival rate is no more than 10%. Most patients with mesothelioma in the lungs die from respiratory failure or pneumonia.
Below is more information about mesothelioma, how it affects the lungs, and the difference between mesothelioma and lung cancer.
How Mesothelioma Affects The Lungs
Virtually every case of mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos was used in many products and materials from the late 19th century until the early 1980s because of its resistance to heat and fire, as well as low cost. Unfortunately, when asbestos is disturbed, billions of invisible asbestos fibers are blown in the air.
When the invisible, sharp fibers are inhaled, they can penetrate deeply into the lung tissue because they are so small. The body attempts to rid itself of the toxic particles, but some asbestos usually remains in the lungs.
Over decades, the asbestos fibers can irritate the pleura, leading to inflammation and abnormal growth of mesothelial cells, which can lead to mesothelioma up to 40 years after exposure. (Foundation.chestnet.org).
Asbestos cancer grows mostly on the lung and other chest surfaces in tiny individual tumors that slowly grow together, leading to pain as cancer invades nerves. Victims also suffer shortness of breath as tumor nodules and fluid accumulates in the pleural space between the lungs and chest wall. This causes the lungs to become compressed, so the victim is unable to take a deep breath.
Mesothelioma can occasionally spread to lymph nodes and get into the lungs themselves, but it is rare.
Less than 5% of people who are exposed to asbestos will get mesothelioma. This cancer is usually diagnosed by a chest X-ray that was taken for other reasons, such as checking for pneumonia or prior to surgery for another health problem.
The lungs and pleura are the most common site for mesothelioma, and several respiratory symptoms can take place:
- Severe shortness of breath
- Pain when attempting to take a deep breath
- Pain in the chest and back that will not subside
- Dry, regular cough without any mucus that does not get better after several weeks
- Whistling or wheezing while taking a breath
- Chest cold symptoms on a regular basis
The Difference Between Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer
There are key differences between the two cancers, and they should not be confused. Lung cancer usually develops inside the lung, while mesothelioma grows in the lung lining outside the organ itself. Mesothelioma also can grow in the lining of the abdominal organs, heart, and testicles. Mesothelioma affecting the lung lining is called pleural mesothelioma. (Mayoclinic.org).
Different Growth Patterns
A significant difference between mesothelioma and lung cancer is how the cancer affects healthy cells. Mesothelioma is diffuse, meaning the difference between healthy and cancerous tissue is difficult to discern.
Lung cancer usually grows in individual tumors, with more defined boundaries. Mesothelioma begins as tiny nodules of tumors that are scattered throughout the mesothelial lining. They eventually grow together into a tumor resembling a sheath around the lung or affected organ.
Treatment Difficult for Mesothelioma
Treatment for mesothelioma is challenging because the cancer is spread throughout healthy tissue. Mesothelioma patients who respond best to treatment are diagnosed in the early stages of the disease.
In those cases, a surgery called extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) can be performed that takes out the cancerous lung and other tissue affected by cancer. This treatment may be followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation. Still, the prognosis is poor, with a five-year survivability of 10-20%.
Lung cancer usually involves individual tumors that are more easily treated with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. While the cancer is deadly, the five-year survivability of many forms of lung cancer is 56% when it is localized to the lungs. But five-year survivability is only 18.6% if the disease has spread outside the lungs. (Lung.org).
Mesothelioma Is Rare
Another big difference is the incidence rate of the two cancers. Lung cancer is the #2 most common cancer in the United States, with 222,000 cases per year.
Mesothelioma is rare, with only 3,000 cases diagnosed annually. (Lung.org). Asbestos cancer or mesothelioma is more common in men than in women.
Mesothelioma is nearly always caused by asbestos exposure, while most lung cancers are due to smoking and secondhand smoke. Smoking does not make you more likely to get mesothelioma, but it does boost your risk of lung cancer. People with the highest risk of getting lung cancer are smokers who were exposed to asbestos.
Different Latency Periods
You can be diagnosed with mesothelioma decades after you were exposed to asbestos. Some patients develop mesothelioma 40 years after asbestos exposure. The latency period for lung cancer is usually much less.
Mesothelioma affects the lungs, but differently than lung cancer. This deadly form of cancer is caused mostly by asbestos exposure, and the cancer grows on the lung surface, not inside the organ. Asbestos is usually the cause of mesothelioma, which cannot be caused by smoking. However, smoking does increase the risk of developing mesothelioma.
If you were exposed to asbestos and have developed mesothelioma, it is wise to talk to an experienced mesothelioma attorney today. You may be eligible for compensation in a personal injury lawsuit and receive compensation for the following:
- Payment for all medical costs, including cancer treatments you need in the future.
- Lost income, including your reduced earning potential in the future.
- Pain and suffering that you have endured from your cancer.
If you lost a loved one to mesothelioma, a consultation with an attorney can help you determine if it would be productive to file a wrongful death lawsuit. You may receive mesothelioma compensation for funeral expenses, loss of companionship, lost income, and mental pain and anguish.