People frequently ask if mesothelioma is lung cancer. Well, they are not the same. Sure enough, it can be easy to confuse the two since they share similar symptoms, for example, chest pain and trouble breathing. The similarity in symptoms also makes it difficult for doctors to accurately diagnose mesothelioma. In many cases, the disease is detected after it advances to the final stage. This explains why many people are unaware of the disease until it’s too late to treat it.
Mesothelioma, a rare malignant cancer tumor, is caused almost exclusively from exposure to asbestos. Most cases of asbestos poisoning and mesothelioma involve people who worked in places where they were exposed to asbestos, e.g., amphibole or serpentine types. However, it usually takes 20-50 years for the disease to show up. By this time, the survival rate is approximately 1 year. As such, it is crucial for people who were exposed to asbestos or another type of elongate mineral particle (EMP) to know the difference between mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Mesothelioma Causes and Risk Factors
Mesothelioma is an asbestos-related cancer that mainly affects the cells in the lining of the lungs (mesothelium), but it can start in other areas of the body. Besides the lungs, the disease can develop in the lining of the abdomen, heart, or testicles. The original location of the cancer and the cell type usually help determine the type of mesothelioma.
The disease develops after asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs, or swallowed. The fibrous minerals are contained in construction and installation materials such as insulation, drywall, ceiling, tiles, and paint. They are also found in asbestos mines and milling, automotive, and manufacturing factories.
The fibers look like ultra-fine needles, can only be seen under a microscope, and typically contaminate the air after being disturbed. For example, during the demolition of a building that contains asbestos material.
Types of Mesothelioma
The different types of mesothelioma is a factor that indicates it is not the same as lung cancer. There are four main types of disease. All of them can start in one location and spread to other parts of the body through the blood vessels and lymph nodes.
- Pleural mesothelioma: The most common asbestos-related cancer, which starts in the lining of the lung. Accounts for 75% of all malignant mesothelioma cases.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma: Affects the lining of the abdominal cavity. See peritoneal mesothelioma.
- Pericardial mesothelioma: Involves the growth of cancer cells or tumors in the lining of the heart. See pericardial mesothelioma.
- Testicular mesothelioma: Forms in the lining of the testes and accounts for less than 5% of all mesothelioma cases.
Differences Between Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer
The first difference between the two is lung cancer originates in the lung only while mesothelioma can take root in the lining of the heart, abdomen, or testes. Other factors that distinguish the two diseases are as follows:
- Location: Pleural mesothelioma develops in the pleura or lining of the lung while lung cancer generally involves the growth of cancerous tumors within the lung itself.
- Primary cause: Prolonged asbestos exposure (direct or second-hand) is the primary cause of pleural mesothelioma while radon and cigarette smoking are the leading causes of lung cancer. However, it can develop from second-hand smoking or asbestos exposure.
- Latency period: Unlike mesothelioma of the lungs which takes about 20 years to develop, lung cancer latency period is approximately 10 to 30 years after exposure to cigarette smoke, asbestos, or another carcinogen.
- Prevalence: Lung cancer is far more common with an estimated 220,000 diagnoses a year in the US. Only about 3000 people are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma per year. Furthermore, there is an 18 percent 5-year survival rate for lung cancer. The survival rate for the same period is less than 10 percent for mesothelioma.
- Tumor formation: Lung cancer tumors form as well-defined, individual masses (nodules), making them easier to target for treatment. Mesothelioma tumors start as tiny scattered nodules in the lining of the lung. This makes it difficult to use targeted treatment. The nodules later come together to form a sheath-like tumor around the lung.
- Spread pattern: In the fourth and final stage, lung cancer spreads (metastasizes) to both lungs, other body parts, and distant locations such as the brain, liver, bones, and adrenal glands. Asbestos-related lung cancer may spread throughout both lungs or to the brain or bones. It rarely spreads to distant locations. Furthermore, lung cancer tends to spread to other organs much earlier, while mesothelioma remains locally aggressive within the organ of origin.
While the primary cause of lung cancer differs from mesothelioma, exposure to all types of asbestos can significantly increase the risk of lung cancer in people who smoke. On the other hand, smoking is not a mesothelioma cause or risk factor. However, it takes greater exposure to asbestos to cause lung cancer compared to pleural mesothelioma.
Similarities Between Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer
- Symptoms: Both diseases cause symptoms such as trouble breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain, weight loss, and fatigue.
- Stages: The same staging system is used for lung cancer and mesothelioma. However, the early symptoms of both cancers are similar but they spread differently in the later stage. For example, both cancers remain localized in the first and second stages of development. The tumors grow to nearby organs and lymph nodes at stage three. At the fourth stage, lung cancer can spread further away from the lungs.
- Diagnostics: Doctors use similar diagnostic methods to identify these cancers. They include x-ray, CT or PET scans, sputum test, biopsy, and bronchoscopy.
- Treatment: The same treatment options are available for lung cancer, with the exception of photodynamic therapy, which is currently just an experimental treatment for mesothelioma.
There is no cure for mesothelioma. Surgical treatment is available for those with stage 1, 2, and 3 of the disease. Treatment options for stage 4 (final stage) asbestos-related cancer includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and palliative therapy. Surgery is no longer an option at this point. Meanwhile, 45,221 malignant mesothelioma deaths were reported between 1999 and 2015. There was hope that the strict asbestos regulations would decrease the number of malignant mesothelioma deaths. But in spite of regulatory actions and a decline in asbestos use, the number of deaths per year remains substantial.
I Have Mesothelioma Get Legal Help Now
As you can see, mesothelioma and lung cancer are different and similar in several ways. A significant and life-changing difference is the length of time it takes for mesothelioma to develop. By the time it is diagnosed, the patient may have a slim chance of survival.
You should speak with your doctor immediately if you suspect you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos or may have mesothelioma. You may also have a right to make a legal claim for damages due to the negligence of a company or entity. An attorney who specializes in asbestos cases can help you explore your legal options.