What Is the Difference Between Mesothelioma and Asbestos Lung Cancer?

January 24, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
What Is the Difference Between Mesothelioma and Asbestos Lung Cancer?

Dealing with any devastating diagnosis related to asbestos exposure can permanently change your life. However, several key differences exist between the types of diagnoses you may receive following asbestos exposure.

Inhaling asbestos on the job can take years to lead to lung cancer or mesothelioma diagnosis. However, when a diagnosis occurs, patients may wonder what challenges they may face in the future, including the overall difference between asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma vs. Lung Cancer: The Key Difference

​What Is the Difference Between Mesothelioma and Asbestos Lung Cancer

Most people know mesothelioma as a type of cancer developed due to asbestos exposure, often due to job-related contact with asbestos. Because mesothelioma frequently affects the lungs and may have symptoms like chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath, patients and their families may connect it heavily with lung cancer.

However, mesothelioma does not affect the tissue of the lungs themselves. Instead, it affects the pleural tissue located outside the lungs. Pleural tissue also fills the diaphragm and the chest cavity. In rare cases, mesothelioma can also impact the testes or the heart’s lining, which contains pleural tissue.

Mesothelioma and lung cancer may also show up differently on scans and tests. While lung cancer generally appears as a solid mass, mesothelioma may start as smaller modules that may grow closer together over time.

In the case of both mesothelioma and lung cancer, receiving a diagnosis from a qualified medical professional who specializes in care for asbestos-related diseases can prove essential.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Symptoms of mesothelioma and symptoms of lung cancer may appear similar. Patients with mesothelioma may experience shortness of breath, pain and discomfort in the chest, and persistent cough, just like patients with lung cancer. Lung cancer, like mesothelioma, may also cause unexpected weight loss or feelings of tiredness.

Mesothelioma, however, may have some additional symptoms, including stomach symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain and swelling. Patients with mesothelioma may also experience night sweats or ongoing fever.

Symptoms may prove challenging to identify at first. Working with a mesothelioma specialist, who may understand more about the ins and outs of asbestos-related cancer, can make it easier for patients with asbestos-related lung cancer to pursue the complete treatment they may need for their symptoms.

Diagnosis Timing

When a person inhales or swallows tiny, unnoticeable asbestos fibers, the body cannot break them down. Those substances can linger in the body for years with no apparent signs of trouble. Over time, however, they may create irritation and inflammation throughout the body, particularly in the area where exposure occurred. In the case of inhaled asbestos, that typically means irritation in the lungs. Over time, that can create significant problems, including DNA changes, abnormal cell growth, and cancer.

Asbestos cancer includes all types of cancer related to asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma. However, asbestos lung cancer may include several types of cancer, not just mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma can take between 20 and 60 years to appear after asbestos exposure, and it generally takes significant exposure over time to lead to cancer. Lung cancer, on the other hand, usually takes around 10 to 30 years to develop.

Where the Disease Occurs

Mesothelioma generally impacts the areas of the body exposed to asbestos. It can occur in the lining of the lungs or around the stomach, but it can also occur in the abdomen, in the heart, or the reproductive organs. Tumors have relatively widespread nodules, often in small masses throughout the body.

Lung cancer, on the other hand, occurs primarily within the lung space, though it can metastasize and spread throughout the body, especially if the patient does not receive prompt treatment. Lung cancer generally includes larger masses or tumors than mesothelioma.

How the Disease Occurs

Mesothelioma has just one known cause: asbestos exposure. Lung cancer, on the other hand, can have multiple causes. Some patients find an increased risk of lung cancer when they have numerous types of exposure, including asbestos exposure.

The multiple causes of lung cancer can make it more difficult to clearly establish exactly how your condition occurred. For example, patients who smoke regularly or may have received considerable exposure to air pollution due to their city of origin may also have better odds of developing asbestos-related lung cancer than patients who have never faced that exposure.

Even regular secondhand smoke exposure, which many construction workers who work with asbestos may have also faced on the job site, can raise the risk of developing lung cancer.

To establish that you deserve compensation due to your asbestos exposure, you may need to work with your doctor to clearly show that you did face asbestos exposure and that the specific type of cancer you have likely stems from that exposure.

For example, patients with asbestos-related exposure may have more regular lung X-rays than other patients, which may allow doctors to see the development of those types of cancer earlier. Patients with asbestos-related lung cancer may also have other related conditions, including asbestosis. Working with a doctor specializing in mesothelioma can benefit patients with asbestos-related lung cancer.

Treatment Plans for Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma: Key Differences

Treatment for mesothelioma and lung cancer may vary, depending on the severity of the diagnosis, how early doctors catch the condition, and whether the patient has any other conditions or underlying problems that could complicate treatment.

Treatment strategies may include:

  • Surgery. For lung cancer, surgery may, in some cases, work to remove the tumor. Surgeons may also choose to remove the affected lobe of the lung. For mesothelioma, on the other hand, surgeons may need to remove the pleural lining of the lungs, which can help remove some of the masses associated with mesothelioma and impact outcomes.
  • Radiation. Radiation is generally more effective for mesothelioma than it is for some types of lung cancer. However, both mesothelioma masses and asbestos lung cancer tumors may prove responsive to radiation.
  • Chemotherapy. Some of the same chemotherapy medications are used for both mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer.

Patients with mesothelioma may struggle more to find treatment options and facilities.

Mesothelioma remains relatively rare, with only around 62,500 cases diagnosed over the course of more than a decade. Each year, more than 236,740 people face a lung cancer diagnosis. As a result, treatment options for mesothelioma may progress more slowly than treatment options for patients with lung cancer.

Outcomes for Patients with Mesothelioma vs. Patients with Lung Cancer

A year after a mesothelioma diagnosis, according to The Mesothelioma Center, around 42 percent of lung cancer patients and 39 percent of mesothelioma patients survive. Ten years after diagnosis, around 4 percent of mesothelioma patients and 10 percent of lung cancer patients survive. Survival rates may depend in part on the lack of availability of ready treatment for patients with mesothelioma. Mesothelioma may also see less overall research than lung cancer due to the fact that it occurs much less frequently.

Prompt treatment can prove critical in both the case of asbestos-related lung cancer and in the case of mesothelioma. Early diagnosis and treatment can help extend the odds of a positive prognosis or make it easier for the patient to live longer after diagnosis. Early treatment may also help improve the overall quality of life.

Filing a Claim for Compensation for Mesothelioma vs. Asbestos Lung Cancer

Regardless of whether you have lung cancer or mesothelioma, if you believe that exposure to asbestos may have caused your condition, you may have the right to file a claim for compensation that will help you recover the funds you may need to cover the cost of medical treatment and manage other expenses during your recovery.

Who Bears Liability?

In many cases, the entity whose negligence caused your exposure to asbestos, and the corresponding diagnosis, will bear liability for the damages you sustain as a result of that diagnosis.

Liable parties may include:

  • Mining companies
  • Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products
  • Employers who regularly worked in and around asbestos, particularly those that may not have provided adequate safety equipment for their workers

Talk to a lawyer as soon after your diagnosis as possible to get a better idea of who might bear liability for your asbestos exposure. Some workers, including construction workers, may have worked regularly with asbestos throughout their careers, which may mean that multiple employers may share liability for that exposure.

Establishing Liability

Establishing liability for a lung cancer diagnosis may prove more difficult than establishing liability for a mesothelioma-related diagnosis. However, medically, working with asbestos, particularly over a long period of time, can significantly increase the risk of developing lung cancer and other related conditions.

Scans cannot see the presence of asbestos fibers in the lungs or other areas of the body, so if you end up suffering from lung cancer rather than mesothelioma, asbestosis, or another related condition, you may need to work with your doctor and your lawyer to clearly establish that your lung cancer risk increased due to significant asbestos exposure. Working with a lawyer can make it easier to put together the evidence that can help you lay out those key details.

Recovering Compensation

In cases of both asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma, you may have the right to recover compensation for the damages you have sustained due to your illness. Most patients with asbestos-related diagnoses will end up with long-term medical care needs, including the ongoing cost of treatment for those disorders. Patients may need chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery or go through other treatments, including immunotherapy, intended to help manage symptoms or fight cancer.

Compensation may include:

  • Compensation for medical expenses related to the treatment. Related medical expenses may include any costs directly associated with mesothelioma or lung cancer treatment, including end-of-life care.
  • Compensation for income losses related to the mesothelioma or lung cancer diagnosis. In many cases, patients with these conditions will find themselves unable to work while undergoing treatment.
  • Compensation for the suffering that may have occurred due to lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Talk to a lawyer about the compensation you should reasonably expect for any diagnosis related to asbestos exposure since a lawyer can help provide you with deeper insight into what to expect.

Wrongful Death Claims

If you lose a loved one to lung cancer or mesothelioma, you may have the right to pursue compensation for that loss. A wrongful death claim generally aims to seek compensation for the losses a family faces after losing a loved one to a devastating condition, including mesothelioma or lung cancer.

Claims may include compensation for:

  • The medical expenses faced by the patient.
  • The final expenses, including funeral and burial expenses associated with the loss of a loved one.
  • The loss of a loved one’s income. Often, losing the primary earner in a family can lead to substantial financial challenges for the family.
  • The loss of the services a loved one previously performed for the family. Services may include things like childcare, elder care, or caring for the home, all of which the family may need to replace or hire someone to take care of following a death.

Any time you lose a loved one to a serious condition, working with a lawyer can give you a better idea of what compensation you may have the right to claim.

Contact an Attorney After a Mesothelioma or Asbestos Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Dealing with a devastating diagnosis can leave you scrambling as you figure out what to do next. If you have received an asbestos lung cancer or mesothelioma diagnosis, an attorney can help provide you with the information you need to decide what to do next as you navigate the claim process. Contact a mass tort lawyer as soon as possible to start your claim.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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