Is Mesothelioma a Lung Cancer?

In the U.S., lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. Meanwhile, mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer – about 3,000 new cases arise each year. Yet, living or working around loose asbestos dust may lead to either disease. Moreover, respiratory problems are among the first symptoms of most lung cancers and many mesotheliomas. This leaves many people to wonder if mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer.

Research shows asbestos exposure leads to twice as many lung cancer deaths as mesothelioma.

What’s the Difference?

Cancer is a type of disease that involves the uncontrolled growth of cells. Any of the body’s tissues can develop cancer (such as the brain, skin, throat, etc.).

When cancer starts in the lungs, it is known as lung cancer. Similarly, when cancer starts in the mesothelium (the tissue lining certain organs) it is known as mesothelioma or mesothelioma cancer.

Lung cancers only begin in the lungs. However, mesotheliomas can occur in the lining of the lungs and testicles as well as the abdominal and heart cavities.

Like all forms of cancer, tumors may start to grow in one area before spreading to another. This is known as metastasis. For example, tumors may spread from the lining surrounding the lungs (known as pleural mesothelioma) into the lung’s air sacs. Yet, even when cancer spreads, doctors still refer to it by the original tumor’s starting site.

Linking Asbestos to Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer

How can breathing in asbestos dust contribute to mesothelioma or lung cancer? Asbestos is a known carcinogen (a cancer-causing substance). Unlike radon or alcohol, however, the effects of asbestos poisoning take years or decades to develop. Consequently, most people diagnosed with asbestos-related mesotheliomas and lung cancers suffered toxic exposure many years ago.

There is no safe level of exposure to the toxin when its fibers are crumbling, damaged, and easily sent into the air.

Once inside, there is no way to remove asbestos from the body. Tiny barbs on the fibers latch onto cells and get stuck. Over time, they cause damage to the cell’s DNA. Asbestos-caused damage may include health problems like fluid buildup in the gut (known as pleural effusion) or lung tissues to hard (known as pleural plaques).

Get Tested If You Have Symptoms

In many cases, mesothelioma and lung cancer share similar symptoms. Early signs of cancer include a cough that won’t go away for at least 8 weeks, trouble breathing, and pain in your chest. If you have symptoms of an asbestos-related disease, talk with your doctor as soon as possible.

Generally, a doctor must run several tests to determine if you have lung cancer, mesothelioma, or another illness. After a physical exam, you may be asked to undergo imaging tests (such as an X-ray, MRI, PET scan, or CT scan). Yet, to diagnose the specific type of cancer, a tissue biopsy of the tumor(s) is typically required.