Mesothelioma vs Adenocarcinoma Differences

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Mesothelioma and adenocarcinoma are types of cancer but are different diseases. Each has different causes and prognoses, as well as different treatment regimens.

Major differences between the two diseases include:

  • Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, while adenocarcinoma is most often caused by smoking. However, some adenocarcinoma patients never smoked.
  • Adenocarcinoma is lung cancer that forms in the lungs, while mesothelioma forms in the lung and/or abdominal lining.
  • Mesothelioma has a poor prognosis, with many patients living only a year or so. People with lung cancer may live longer.
  • Treatment for the disease will vary, using a mixture of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and/or immunotherapy.

Overview of Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma is a type of non-small cell lung cancer or NSCLC. This cancer usually starts in gland cells, which are in the lungs and other internal organs. The cancer generally forms on the edges of the lungs, and can also develop in the bronchioles. (

Adenocarcinoma also can form in the prostate, pancreas, breast, and colon. Note that only adenocarcinoma that forms in the lungs is called lung cancer. This form of cancer comprises approximately 40% of all lung cancers.

Adenocarcinoma occurs more often in women and is the most common lung cancer in people who never smoked. Any patient with this cancer who smokes should stop immediately; studies show that smokers who quit have better outcomes than those who continue to smoke.

If you have this cancer, it is important to talk to your doctor about your treatment options and prognosis. These vary from patient to patient based on many factors:

  • Histology – what the cancer cells look like under a microscope
  • Biomarker profiles – the characteristics and mutations in tumors that allow them to grow
  • Cancer stage
  • Location of tumor
  • Medical history
  • Test results
  • Symptoms

Overview of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is cancer that forms in the thin membrane of tissue that covers most of the internal organs. Most forms of the disease occur in the lung lining, which is referred to as pleural mesothelioma. Other types of the disease occur in the abdomen, which is called peritoneal mesothelioma. (

Whether mesothelioma develops in the lungs or abdomen, it is almost always caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos was used in many construction, manufacturing and heavy industry professions for decades for its excellent heat and fire resistance.

Unfortunately, exposure to asbestos without protective equipment can lead to inflammation and scarring of the lungs and abdominal organs. Over the decades, this damage can turn into an aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis; most people with pleural mesothelioma do not live more than a year.

How to Diagnose Mesothelioma vs. Adenocarcinoma

It is easy for mesothelioma to be confused with adenocarcinoma and other lung cancers because the symptoms are similar. ( Mesothelioma patients were almost always heavily exposed to asbestos at some point in their lives.

Usually, doctors will determine a patient has mesothelioma because of other problems the cancer causes, as well as their history of working with asbestos: (

  • A persistent dry cough that never goes away
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blood in mucous from the lungs
  • Swelling in the neck or face veins
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Back or chest pain
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

During the medical examination, your doctor will review your medical history and work history to determine if you may have mesothelioma.

Imaging tests to detect mesothelioma include X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, and bone scans.

Symptoms of Adenocarcinoma

To differentiate this disease from mesothelioma, your doctor will look further if you exhibit these symptoms: (

  • Wheezing or hoarse voice
  • Trouble breathing
  • Regular respiratory infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Ache in chest, shoulder or back that occurs worse with deep breathing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Coughing up blood
  • Cough that will not go away

Your doctor also may order CT or MRI scans to check for adenocarcinoma tumors.

Distinguishing between these cancers is difficult even for skilled physicians. If you received a lung cancer diagnosis and worked with asbestos, it is often a good idea to get a second opinion from a doctor experienced with asbestos-related diseases. Each cancer is treated differently, so an accurate diagnosis from the start is critical.

Treating Mesothelioma vs. Adenocarcinoma

Getting an accurate diagnosis is important because mesothelioma and adenocarcinoma are treated differently. Your doctor will design your treatment plan based on cancer type, stage, location, health, and other factors.

Common treatment programs for mesothelioma include some or all of these:

  • Radiation: Internal and external forms of radiation therapy can be used to shrink tumors. In cases in the later stages, radiation may be used to reduce symptoms and pain. Radiation is not usually a first-line treatment for mesothelioma because the tumors tend to be spread out in the organ lining.
  • Chemotherapy: Drugs are given by vein to attack the cancer cells anywhere in the body.
  • Surgery: For pleural mesothelioma, surgeons may remove a lung, part of a lung, or the lung lining to take out as much of the cancerous tissue as possible.
  • Palliative treatments: There are several treatment options to relieve pain for patients whose cancer is in stage 3 or 4.

Treatment options for adenocarcinoma are similar but differ in some ways:

  • Immunotherapy: Boosts the immune system’s ability to fight cancer by teaching it to recognize cancer cells and kill them.
  • Targeted therapy: Targets cancer cells by focusing on their signals and parts of cells that cause cancer cells to grow.
  • Surgery: Various surgeries can be used with this cancer to remove some or all of the tumors if they have not spread.
  • Radiation: This is a first-line treatment for early-stage lung adenocarcinoma because the tumors are localized.
  • Chemotherapy: A different mix of anti-cancer drugs is given to these patients than those with mesothelioma. Chemotherapy may be combined with radiation therapy for early-stage cancer patients.
  • Angiogenesis inhibitors: Angiogenesis is the process of creating new blood cells to supply cells with blood as the body develops and grows. The process feeds cancer cells and helps them spread. These inhibitors may slow the growth of tumors by preventing the body from making new blood vessels.


Mesothelioma and adenocarcinoma are different types of cancer that need different treatment plans. It is important for your prognosis to have an accurate diagnosis as early as possible. If you were ever exposed to asbestos, you might want to get a second opinion as adenocarcinoma can be easily confused with mesothelioma.