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Mesothelioma Cancer

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Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that is caused by inhaled asbestos fibers and forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Symptoms can include shortness of breath and chest pain. The life expectancy for most mesothelioma patients is approximately 12 months after diagnosis. Treatment may improve prognosis and can include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

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Watch: Mesothelioma expert Dr. David Sugarbaker answers the question: What is mesothelioma cancer?

What Is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an incurable, asbestos-related cancer that typically affects the lining of the lungs. However, mesothelioma tumors can develop in the lining of the abdominal cavity or heart.

Mesothelioma developing in the pleura, peritoneum and pericardium
Mesothelioma tumors develop in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart.

Mesothelioma Symptoms

Symptoms of mesothelioma appear when tumors spread, grow and press against the chest wall and the abdominal cavity. Chest pain and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms.

Common Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • Dry coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Respiratory complications
  • Pain in the chest or abdomen
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness in the muscles
Read More About Mesothelioma Symptoms

Quick Fact

A balanced mesothelioma diet can help ease your symptoms and speed recovery. Get a free nutrition guide with quick and easy recipes that can help improve your quality of life.

Get Your Nutrition Guide

Diagnosing Mesothelioma

A biopsy is the only mesothelioma test that confirms a diagnosis. Doctors may use additional diagnostic procedures. An early mesothelioma diagnosis may increase a patient’s eligibility for all treatment options.

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Imaging Scans

Most people initially undergo a basic chest X-ray to check for any abnormalities. If an abnormal growth is detected, doctors will recommend a more detailed imaging scan such as a PET scan, CT scan or MRI.

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If cancer is suspected, doctors will recommend taking a sample of tissue, also knowns as a biopsy. Doctors use this tissue sample to definitively confirm the presence of malignant mesothelioma cells.

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Blood Tests

Blood tests may be used but do not confirm the presence of mesothelioma. Researchers are evaluating if blood tests can aid in the early diagnosis of at-risk former asbestos workers.

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Doctors use at least five staging systems to stage pleural mesothelioma. The IMIG staging system is preferred. No universal staging system exists for the other mesothelioma types.

Mesothelioma Causes

Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma. People exposed to asbestos at home, work or in the military have a higher risk of developing the disease.

How Mesothelioma Develops

  1. Person inhaling asbestos fibers

    A person inhales or swallows microscopic airborne asbestos fibers.

  2. Asbestos fibers entering the lungs

    The asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart.

  3. Asbestos fibers lodged in mesothelium causing inflammation

    Embedded fibers damage mesothelial cells and cause inflammation.

  4. Mesothelioma tumor forming in mesothelium

    Over time, tumors form on the damaged mesothelium, leading to mesothelioma.

People Most at Risk of Developing Mesothelioma

People most at risk of developing mesothelioma handled asbestos for a prolonged period of time or were exposed to large amounts of asbestos as part of their career.

Secondhand exposure is also common, especially among the spouses and children of people who worked with asbestos.

  • Blue-Collar Workers

    Firefighters, construction workers, power plant workers, shipyard workers and others are among these types of workers.

  • Veterans

    U.S. Navy veterans are most at risk. Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard veterans also face health risks.

  • Family Members

    Spouses, children and others who lived with a person who was regularly exposed to asbestos fibers are at risk.

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with mesothelioma?

Compensation may be available for those diagnosed with mesothelioma. Connect with a top attorney today to see if you qualify.

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Stages of Mesothelioma

The stages of mesothelioma range from 1 to 4 and are based on tumor size and location.

Early-stage mesothelioma is usually more confined to one site, while late-stage mesothelioma shows tumors spreading beyond the chest or abdominal cavity. Staging is an important part of determining treatment.

  • Mesothelioma cancer localized to small area of lung

    Stage 1

    The cancer is localized. Surgery is most effective at this stage. Survival rate is higher. A patient’s median life expectancy at stage 1 is 22.2 months.

    Learn About Stage 1
  • Mesothelioma cancer spreading through lung

    Stage 2

    Tumors have spread from the original location and moved into adjacent structures. Surgery is still an option. Median life expectancy at stage 2 is 20 months.

    Learn About Stage 2
  • Mesothelioma cells spreading to lymph nodes

    Stage 3

    Cancer has spread into the regional lymph nodes. Surgery may be an option. The patient’s median life expectancy at stage 3 is 17.9 months.

    Learn About Stage 3
  • Mesothelioma cancer spreading throughout pleura to other organs

    Stage 4

    Tumors have spread into distant organs. Chemotherapy and immunotherapy ease symptoms. Median life expectancy at stage 4 is 14.9 months.

    Learn About Stage 4

Mesothelioma Types

The four types of mesothelioma cancer are identified by the location in the body where tumors develop. Pleural and peritoneal types of mesothelioma are the most common. Pericardial mesothelioma accounts for 1% of cases.

Prognosis, symptoms and treatment options vary by mesothelioma type.

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Pleural Mesothelioma

  • 75% of cases
  • Forms on soft tissue covering the lungs
  • Best treated with a multimodal approach
Read More About Pleural Mesothelioma
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Peritoneal Mesothelioma

  • Less than 20% of cases
  • Develops on lining surrounding the abdomen
  • Responds best to a combination of surgery and heated chemotherapy
Read More About Peritoneal Mesothelioma
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Pericardial Mesothelioma

  • 1% of cases
  • Forms on soft tissue around the heart
  • Best treated with a multimodal approach
Read More About Pericardial Mesothelioma
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Testicular Mesothelioma

  • Less than 1% of cases
  • Develops on the lining of the testes
  • Responds best to surgery
Read More About Testicular Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma Cell Types

There are three cell types of mesothelioma named for the cancer cells found in the tumors: Epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic. Some are more common and respond well to treatments. Others are rarer and more resistant to therapies.

Epithelial cells


These cells are the most responsive to treatment. This type of mesothelioma accounts for 70% of mesothelioma diagnoses. It also leads to improved prognosis and life expectancy.

Read More
Sarcomatoid cells


Cells of this type are least responsive to treatment. Patients with these cell types have poorer diagnoses and shorter life expectancies. This mesothelioma type accounts for 10% of all cases.

Read More
Biphasic cells


This is a combination of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. It’s less responsive to treatment. Prognosis and life expectancy depend on the ratio of both cell types. It accounts for 30% to 40% of cases.

Read More

Mesothelioma Treatment Options

Mesothelioma cancer is treated with conventional therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. But not every patient is eligible for each type of mesothelioma treatment. Some patients also opt for emerging cancer treatments, including clinical trials, and alternative therapies.

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This therapy is used for diagnosing, removing tumors or easing pain. It offers the greatest chance of survival for patients with strong health and limited cancer spread.

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More than 70% of patients undergo chemotherapy. The therapy’s strong drugs shrink tumors and kill cancer cells, but it also presents severe treatment side effects.

Read More
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Radiation Therapy

The therapy can be used at any cancer stage. Doctors perform it to reduce pain and slow tumor growth. It is often combined with surgery and chemotherapy.

Read More
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Clinical Trials

Researchers and doctors offer these experimental therapies across the nation to eligible patients. Clinical trials lead to new or improved treatments.

Read More

Finding Mesothelioma Treatment

Doctors who focus on mesothelioma at specialty treatment centers provide patients the best chances of extending life and improving prognosis.

Top Doctors

Mesothelioma specialists encompass a number of specialties, including surgery, medical and radiation oncology, radiology, pathology and palliative care. All can be part of a patient’s treatment plan. Working with an experienced mesothelioma doctor can make all the difference.

Review Top Doctors

Top Treatment Centers

The most-regarded treatment centers attract people from across the country. Renowned for their cutting-edge technology and groundbreaking research, these centers can connect you with a multidisciplinary team of physicians with years of experience in treating asbestos-related diseases.

Review Top Treatment Centers

Importance of Finding a Mesothelioma Doctor

Most doctors and oncologists have never encountered mesothelioma because it is a rare cancer.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine shows cancer care “requires the technical knowledge and skills of specialty physicians such as medical oncologists, surgeons and radiation oncologists.”

Mesothelioma Prognosis

The prognosis for mesothelioma is not good. The life expectancy for most patients is about 12 months after diagnosis. Those who can undergo multimodal therapy, which is a combination of two or more treatments, have an improved prognosis.

Key Factors

Factors that most affect mesothelioma prognosis are stage and cell type. Age, gender and exposure history also affect outlook. Younger patients and women have a better mesothelioma prognosis than older men. People diagnosed with the peritoneal mesothelioma type also have a higher chance of survival.

Ways to Improve Prognosis

Patients can improve prognosis by eating a nutrient-rich diet, staying healthy, undergoing cancer treatments and making healthier lifestyle choices such as quitting smoking.

Pie chart representing mesothelioma survival rate

Legal and Financial Options for Mesothelioma

Legal and financial options for mesothelioma patients and their families can provide financial compensation to pay medical bills, cover lost wages and other expenses. A mesothelioma lawyer can review your case, so you receive the highest compensation.

Types of Legal Options

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Mesothelioma Lawsuit

A mesothelioma patient can file a personal injury lawsuit. The estate of the patient who died from mesothelioma can file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Read More
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Trust Funds

Bankrupt asbestos companies established trust funds to provide compensation for people exposed to asbestos because of company negligence.

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VA Claims

Because the U.S. military relied heavily on asbestos, veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible for financial and medical benefits.

Read More

Quick Fact: $180,000 is the median value for mesothelioma claims, according to a 2010 report from the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that conducts research and analysis on asbestos bankruptcy trusts.

See if You Qualify for Compensation

Finding Support After a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Many forms of support are available for mesothelioma patients, survivors, loved ones and families.

Support Groups for Mesothelioma Survivors

Mesothelioma survivors, caregivers and family members often need a place where they can share their ongoing struggles and amazing accomplishments. We offer a support group, hosted by a licensed mental health counselor, that offers a safe place for all mesothelioma survivors.

Raising Awareness

You and your loved ones can advocate for others who are going through the same cancer journey. Getting involved in the move to ban asbestos and raise mesothelioma awareness can have long-lasting and positive effects.

Read More About Support

Arm Yourself with Information

Request a comprehensive mesothelioma guide to gain a deeper understanding of the cancer and how you can help your loved one during this difficult time. We can provide you with a free must-read books that answer frequently asked questions about mesothelioma.

Resources for Mesothelioma Patients and their Families

Get all the information you need to make an informed decision after receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis. You will get free access to valuable resources and services for finding treatment, doctors, compensation and much more.

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