Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
The disease forms on the mesothelium — a protective lining that covers the lungs, abdomen, heart and testes.
Tumors can be benign (noncancerous). But when tumors are cancerous, doctors call the disease malignant mesothelioma. It is often shortened to mesothelioma.
The American Cancer Society records about 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma each year in the U.S.
Asbestos remains the primary cause of mesothelioma.
The cancer develops when a person ingests asbestos, and it causes changes to a person’s DNA. Our genes are made of DNA. Some of the genes in our body control how cells grow, multiply and die. Changes in our genes may cause cells to divide out of control and may lead to cancer.
Development of Mesothelioma
- A person inhales or swallows airborne asbestos fibers.
- The asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart.
- The embedded fibers damage the mesothelial cells and cause inflammation.
- Over time, tumors begin to form on the damaged mesothelium.
Common mesothelioma symptoms include:
- Dry coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Respiratory complications
- Pain in the chest or abdomen
- Fever or night sweats
- Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
- Weakness in the muscles
These mesothelioma symptoms usually do not show until tumors have grown and spread. Mesothelioma latency is 20-50 years. That’s how long it takes from initial exposure to accurate diagnosis. For that reason, many people with mesothelioma are in their 60s or 70s.
You should talk to a mesothelioma specialist soon if you have a history of asbestos exposure and experience these symptoms. An early diagnosis may improve your prognosis and life expectancy.Read More About Mesothelioma Symptoms
Who Is Most at Risk of Mesothelioma?
Asbestos use in the military was widespread from 1940 to 1980. Veterans from all branches of the U.S. armed forces were at risk of exposure. Navy veterans are most at risk. This branch used the largest quantity of asbestos products.Learn about Veterans
More than 75 occupations have exposed workers to asbestos. Auto mechanics, textile workers, steel mill workers, construction workers and firefighters are among the most at risk.Learn about Occupations
Asbestos workers unknowingly carried asbestos fibers on their body and clothing. This resulted in secondary asbestos exposure among residents such as women and children.Learn about Secondary Exposure
Types of Mesothelioma
Oncologists name each type of mesothelioma by the location in the body where it develops.
The pleural and peritoneal types of mesothelioma are the most common. Pericardial accounts for 1 percent of cases. Another rare type is testicular mesothelioma. It represents less than 1 percent of all mesotheliomas.
Prognosis, symptoms and treatment options vary by type.
- Most common type
- Forms on soft tissue covering the lungs
- Best treated with a multimodal approach
- Less than 20 percent of all cases
- Develops on lining surrounding the abdomen
- Responds best to a combination of surgery and heated chemotherapy
- Second-rarest type
- Forms on soft tissue around the heart
- Best treated with a multimodal approach
- Rarest type
- Develops on the lining of the testicles
- Responds best to surgery
Younger patients and women have a better mesothelioma prognosis than older men. People diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma also have a higher chance of survival.
Patients eligible to undergo multimodal therapy, which is a combination of two or more standard-of-care treatments, have a better life expectancy and improved prognosis.
A patient’s mesothelioma cell type also plays a significant role in prognosis and life expectancy.
The three types of cells include:
- These cells are the most responsive to treatment, which improves prognosis and life expectancy. They comprise 50 percent of mesothelioma diagnoses.
- These cells are the least responsive to treatment. Patients with this cell type have a poorer prognosis and shorter life expectancy. These cells comprise 10 percent of diagnoses.
- A combination of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. This type is less responsive to treatment. But prognosis and life expectancy depends on the ratio of both types of cells. This type accounts for 30-40 percent of diagnoses.
The Four Stages of Mesothelioma
The cancer is localized. Surgery is most effective at this stage. Survival rate is higher. Median life expectancy at stage 1 is 22.2 months.Learn About Stage 1
Tumors have started to spread from the original location into adjacent structures. Surgery is still an option. Median life expectancy at stage 2 is 20 months.Learn About Stage 2
Cancer has progressed to a more advanced stage with spread into the regional lymph nodes. Surgery may still be an option. Median life expectancy at stage 3 is 17.9 months.Learn About Stage 3
Cancer has spread extensively in the area where it developed. Chemotherapy and immunotherapy control symptoms and prolong survival. Median life expectancy at stage 4 is 14.9 months or less.Learn About Stage 4
Importance of Finding a Mesothelioma Specialist
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer. It represents only 0.3 percent of all cancer diagnoses. Most doctors and oncologists have never encountered it.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine states that cancer care “requires the technical knowledge and skills of specialty physicians such as medical oncologists, surgeons and radiation oncologists.”
Specialty cancer doctors establish:
- Goals for treatment and prognosis
- Possible use of chemotherapy
- First type of treatment
- Possible participation in clinical trials
These are factors that impact a mesothelioma patient’s survival. That’s why finding a mesothelioma specialist is so important.
Finding a mesothelioma specialty center with experienced mesothelioma doctors is crucial to survival.
Top Pleural Specialists
Top Peritoneal Specialists
Need Help Finding a Specialist?
We can help you or a loved one find a mesothelioma doctor who specializes in chemotherapy.Find a Doctor Near You
Mesothelioma treatment helps patients live longer lives. But not every patient is eligible for each type of mesothelioma treatment.
The most common treatments for mesothelioma include:
- Offers greatest chance of survival. Usually used for diagnosis, tumor removal or palliative care to reduce pain. Patients with strong health and limited cancer spread are good candidates.
- More than 70 percent of patients undergo chemotherapy. It uses powerful drugs to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells.
- Radiation Therapy
- Used to reduce pain from growing tumors. When combined with surgery and chemotherapy, it reduces risk of local recurrence. It can be used at any cancer stage.
- This experimental treatment boosts the immune system to fight the cancer. Primarily used in clinical trials.
- Multimodal Therapy
- A combination of two or more treatments. Clinical studies show this approach improves survival rates.
- A multimodal treatment for peritoneal mesothelioma patients. Surgery is first used to remove as many tumors as possible. Heated chemotherapy is then applied to the abdominal cavity to destroy remaining cancer cells.
- Palliative Treatments
- May include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or HIPEC. The purpose is not curative care. Instead, the goal is to reduce pain and improve quality of life. Good for any mesothelioma patient.
Clinical Trials and Emerging Treatments
Clinical trials offer mesothelioma patients access to experimental therapies. They also provide scientific and medical information for researches to develop new treatments. Patients in clinical trials also receive excellent medical care.Learn More About Clinical Trials
Herbal medicines, mind-body therapies, holistic healing and other complementary therapies may benefit patients.
“Thank you for the doctor referral info. We met with the doctor and came away with what seemed like a weight lifted.”
Talk to a Doctor About Your Diagnosis
We can help you or a loved one get a diagnosis or a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist.Get Help Now
Mesothelioma Lawsuits and Financial Assistance
Why Should You File?
Many companies that produced, distributed or used asbestos products knew it was deadly. But they neglected to warn their employees. Filing a lawsuit can help mesothelioma patients cover lost wages, medical expenses and other costs.
Who Can File a Lawsuit?
A person with mesothelioma can file a personal injury lawsuit. Mesothelioma lawyers file these against companies responsible for their client’s asbestos exposure. Families can file wrongful death claims when a loved one dies of mesothelioma.
How Do I File a Lawsuit?
Qualified mesothelioma attorneys can help you decide when to file a lawsuit. They can also guide you through the process. Time is of the essence because statute of limitations may expire. A mesothelioma lawyer will review your case so you receive the highest compensation.
Other Types of Financial Assistance
- VA Claims
- Military veterans can file asbestos-related claims through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Medicare and Medicaid
- Government aid for older patients or those with limited income.
- Workers’ Compensation
- Financial help may be available to people exposed to asbestos on the job.
Support is available for mesothelioma patients, survivors and loved ones in many forms.
- Mesothelioma Support Groups
- Offer patients and survivors a safe place to share experiences.
- Grief Support
- Counseling sessions and grief support groups can bring peace of mind. They can also provide the coping skills needed to grieve for the loss of a loved one.
- Medical Support
- A complete medical team with a mesothelioma specialist, dietitian, patient advocate and others can improve prognosis.
The Mesothelioma Center’s monthly online support group meets every second Wednesday. Licensed mental health counselor Dana Nolan runs the support group. Patients and survivors can share their experiences with others on a similar cancer journey.
Share this article
Last Modified September 17, 2018
13 Cited Article Sources
Klabunde, C. et al. (2009, September). The Role of Primary Care Physicians in Cancer Care.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2726889/
Bowker, M. (2003). Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Cavette, C. (1994). Asbestos. How Products are Made, 4.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Multiple Cause of Death, 1999-2015 Results.
Retrieved from: https://wonder.cdc.gov/mcd-icd10-archive2006.html
ClinicalTrials.gov. (n.d.). Mesothelioma. First Posted from 01/01/2016 to 10/18/2017. =
Retrieved from: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=&type=&rslt=&age_v=&gndr=&cond=mesothelioma&intr=&titles=&outc=&spons=&lead=&id=&cntry1=&state1=&cntry2=&state2=&cntry3=&state3=&locn=&sfpd_s=01%2F01%2F2016&sfpd_e=10%2F18%2F2017&lupd_s=&lupd_e
Dodson, R. and Hammar, S. (2011). Asbestos: Risk Assessment, Epidemiology, and Health Effects. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis. Environmental Protection Agency. (2011, August 22). Asbestos: Basic Information.
Retrieved from: http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos
Environmental Working Group. (2009). The Failed EPA Asbestos Ban: Asbestos manufacturing and sale of asbestos-containing goods in still legal in the U.S.
Retrieved from: http://www.ewg.org/
Johns Manville. (2008). Building on Tradition [PDF document].
Retrieved from: http://www.jm.com/
Kalanik, L., McNulty, M., Stansell, C. (2005, January 1). Johns Manville Corporation. [Abstract]. International Directory of Company Histories.
Retrieved from: http://highbeam.com/doc/1G2-3429100062.html
RAND Corporation - Institute For Civil Justice. (2010). Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts.
Retrieved from: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2010/RAND_TR872.sum.pdf
Spaggiari, L. et al. (2014, June). Extrapleural Pneumonectomy for Malignant Mesothelioma: An Italian Multicenter Retrospective Study. 00330-0/fulltext#tbl2
Retrieved from: http://www.annalsthoracicsurgery.org/article/S0003-4975(14)
U.S. Geological Survey. (2005). [Asbestos] statistics, in Kelly, T.D., and Matos, G.R.,comps. Historical statistics for mineral and material commodities in the United States: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 140 [Data file].
Retrieved from: http://pubs.usgs.gov/ds/2005/140/
- American Cancer Society. (2017, December 20). Survival Statistics for Mesothelioma. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-statistics.html
How did this article help you?
What about this article isn’t helpful for you?
Did this article help you?
Share this article