Differences Between Mesothelioma and Asbestosis

Mesothelioma and asbestosis are both diseases caused by asbestos exposure. While the primary cause of both conditions is the same, some significant differences set them apart.

What are Mesothelioma and Asbestosis?

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that starts in the mesothelium. The mesothelium serves as a protective layer of specific organs and cavities in the body. Mesothelioma cancer can develop in the lungs, stomach, heart, and surrounding tissue.

Even with many emerging treatment options, mesothelioma diagnoses are generally poor. Presently, researchers around the world work diligently to develop better treatment. Patients in earlier stages are more often eligible for curative treatment options. Those who are diagnosed with advanced-stage mesothelioma typically undergo palliative treatments to improve their overall quality of life.

Asbestosis is an interstitial lung disease that results from prolonged asbestos exposure. This chronic lung disease is one of over 200 types of pulmonary fibrosis, also known as scarring of the lungs. Like mesothelioma, asbestos exposure causes asbestosis

While there is no cure for asbestosis, treatment can relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Early detection can significantly improve an asbestosis prognosis. 

The Differences Between Mesothelioma and Asbestosis

Both mesothelioma and asbestosis occur most often in people who were exposed to asbestos on the job or during their service in the military. Second-hand asbestos exposure can also result in a diagnosis of either disease. 

Asbestosis only affects the lungs and respiratory tract and cannot spread or develop elsewhere like mesothelioma cancer. The disease does not typically affect life expectancy. However, an asbestosis diagnosis can increase the risk of developing mesothelioma or another disease.

Although both caused by asbestos, mesothelioma and asbestosis develop differently from one another. Mesothelioma develops after asbestos fibers become lodged in the mesothelium lining of the chest, abdomen, or thoracic cavity rather than in various body cavities, asbestosis only develops in the air sacs of the lungs.

The Similarities Between the Two Asbestos-Related Diseases

Mesothelioma and asbestosis share some similarities, including symptoms. Patients living with either disease may experience chest pain, persistent cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and loss of weight and appetite. Patients diagnosed with asbestosis may not experience severe symptoms in the earlier years of their condition.

Both diseases have a long latency period, which is the period of time between first exposure and when symptoms first develop. The average latency period between mesothelioma and asbestosis is about 10 to 40 years.

The two asbestos-related diseases can cause a pleural effusion. The condition occurs when a build-up of excess fluid collects between the layers of the pleura, the membrane that lines the lungs and chest cavity. The condition isn’t always life-threatening, but the primary cause of pleural effusion, such as cancer, can cause complications like pneumonia or heart failure.

Treatment Options For Mesothelioma and Asbestosis

There is no cure for asbestosis, but there are treatment options available to control the disease and minimize its symptoms. In extreme cases, some patients are eligible for a lung transplant or surgical operations. Typically, patients with asbestosis may use an inhaler to help with chest congestion, tightness, or lung wheezing. Oxygen may be needed to relieve difficulty breathing and improve circulating oxygen levels.

Patients in the lower stages of mesothelioma may be eligible for curative treatments like radiation and surgery. Most patients, however, receive treatment to improve their prognosis, overall health, and type and stage of mesothelioma. Treatment for mesothelioma can include a single form or a combination of several types.

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