What Is Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the mesothelium — the protective lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart. It is caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral, was used for decades in a number of industrial, commercial, military, and residential applications. Mesothelioma is one of the most serious diagnoses of all asbestos-related illnesses.

Due to its long latency period — the time between exposure to asbestos and the development of the disease — mesothelioma is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage and often occurs in older people. It is more common in men, especially those who worked in the automotive and construction industries or who served in the armed forces. First responders, such as firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and EMTs, also have an increased risk of exposure to asbestos. Typically, these career fields inhaled higher levels of contaminants through the nose or mouth, traveling through bronchial tubes into each lung.

Due to the high number of occupational-exposure cases, patients may be eligible to receive discounted treatment or financial compensation for their lung and other organ damage.

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Asbestos exposure is the most common cause of mesothelioma. When inhaled, tiny asbestos fibers become lodged in the body’s mesothelium (either in the lung(s), abdominal, or heart cavities). Years after initial exposure, these have the potential to become malignant (i.e., cancerous).


Mesothelioma occurs as a result of inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers. Common symptoms may mirror less-severe conditions of the lung, such as the flu or pneumonia. These include shortness of breath, fever, chest pain, wheezing or a cough, and weight loss. Patients exhibiting symptoms should visit their doctor right away. The earlier it is diagnosed, the better the prognosis, as more extensive lung treatment offerings are usually available.


In most cases, diagnosing mesothelioma is difficult as its symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions. Doctors also struggle to diagnose the disease because of its rarity and its extremely long latency period (between 30 and 40 years, commonly).

Doctors use imaging scans, blood tests, and biopsies when identifying the presence and stage of cancer. A biopsy is the only definitive way to diagnose mesothelioma. It is important to get a second opinion when going through the diagnostic process or consider visiting a specialized mesothelioma center.

Sites of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma can involve the pleura, the peritoneum, the pericardium, or the testicles. Pleural mesothelioma accounts for the majority of cases, followed by peritoneal. Pericardial and testicular mesothelioma are extremely uncommon, accounting for less than 5 percent of all cases.

The llocation of mesothelial tumors in the body is a major determinant of the course of treatment.

Tumor Cell Types

The type of cells present in mesothelioma tumors can significantly affect a patient’s prognosis and treatment options. Tumors are categorized either as epithelioid, sarcomatoid, or a combination of the two, referred to as biphasic.


Mesothelioma, like other cancers, is staged from 1 to 4. Stages 1 and 2 are less severe and more treatable. Advanced stages have a poor prognosis, as the disease becomes more difficult to treat.

  • Stage 1
    • Cancer is localized within the body
    • Curative treatment options are generally available
    • Average life expectancy: 21 months
  • Stage 2
    • Minimal metastasis (spreading) throughout the body
    • Curative treatment options are generally still available
    • Average life expectancy: 19 months
  • Stage 3
    • Cancer has spread to the lymph system and surrounding organs
    • Fewer treatment options available, tends to be more palliative care
    • Average life expectancy: 16 months
  • Stage 4
    • Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and distant organs
    • Treatment options are strictly palliative at this stage
    • Average life expectancy: 12 months

The stage at which your mesothelioma is diagnosed can affect your treatment options and prognosis.


Treatment for mesothelioma varies, primarily based on the type, stage, and cell type of each patient’s unique case. Generally, doctors combine chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to create a specialized multimodal treatment plan. When it comes to differences in care, curative treatment options aim to completely eradicate the cancer. Often this is only available in early-stage diagnoses. Palliative care refers to treatment options that seek to relieve patient pain and discomfort.

Patients should seek treatment in specialized centers right away. You may also be eligible for clinical trials that could potentially improve your treatment outcomes.

Improve Your Prognosis

While the prognosis has been historically poor, advancements in treatment options offer patients newfound hope for longer survival and a better quality of life. Your overall health can have a significant impact on your mesothelioma prognosis and life expectancy. Some ways to improve your prognosis include a healthy diet, exercise, and reducing stress.

Financial Compensation and Veterans Benefits

Lawsuits and Asbestos Trusts

Negligent asbestos exposure accounts for half of all occupational cancer deaths. Unfortunately, asbestos companies and employers knew the dangers of asbestos and still placed the health of their employees at risk. Asbestos trust funds exist to compensate victims of wrongful occupational exposure, totaling an estimated $37 billion.

If you or a loved one has mesothelioma, you may be eligible for legal compensation to help recover lost wages and cover the burdensome costs of treatment.

VA Claims

Veterans account for nearly 30 percent of all mesothelioma cases. This is due to the military using asbestos extensively during the mid-1900s in everything from ships and submarines to aircraft and even military barracks and mess halls while the mineral was legal. As a result, many service members (as well as civilian personnel) encountered carcinogenic asbestos dust and fibers. If you served in the military and have mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness, you may be eligible to apply for VA benefits as well as legal counsel for compensation.

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