Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer
Mesothelioma and lung cancer are two separate types of cancer that can be caused directly by asbestos exposure. Each of these cancers strikes a different part of the body — mesothelioma attacks the tissue lining the chest and abdominal cavity, whereas lung cancer, by definition, affects only the lungs.
One or a Combination
Mesothelioma and lung cancer are both devastating diseases. An individual who is exposed to asbestos may develop mesothelioma, or lung cancer, or both. The prognosis for an individual with mesothelioma and/or lung cancer from asbestos exposure depends on many factors, but unfortunately, the prognosis and life expectancy are not good.
Commonalities and Differences
Mesothelioma and lung cancer have several aspects in common, and they are also different in many ways.
Cancer of any type is when cells in the body multiply in an abnormal, uncontrolled way. Cancer cells can invade other tissues in the body, and they can spread to distant locations in the body (metastasize). Mesothelioma and lung cancer are just two of the many types of cancer in humans (for example, the Mayo Clinic offers treatment for nearly 160 different types of cancer).
Mesothelioma cancer derives its name from the mesothelium, a thin layer of tissue that lines several body cavities:
- the pleura (chest cavity)
- the peritoneum (abdominal cavity)
- the pericardium (heart sac)
It is not yet known why asbestos attacks the mesothelium in particular. As a mineral composed of millions of microscopic-sized fibers, asbestos in known to be inhaled or ingested orally, especially when there are clouds of airborne asbestos fibers at workplaces. Asbestos fibers can lodge themselves in the mesothelium at any point and initiate the disease process that culminates in mesothelioma.
Thousands of Mesothelioma Cases Each Year
In the last 20-year period of the 20th century, the death rate from mesothelioma in the United States rose from 2,000 to 3,000 people per year. This number may be low; a correct mesothelioma diagnosis is often missed.
Although lung cancer can be caused by tobacco and other toxins, about 3,500–8,500 cases of lung cancer are attributed to asbestos exposure each year in the U.S. (about 2%–5% of all lung cancer cases).
Both asbestos-caused lung cancer and mesothelioma have a very long latency period. It’s often many years, even decades, between the asbestos exposure and the symptoms’ appearance for either type of cancer.
Asbestosis and Lung Cancer
Another disease that is very common among asbestos workers is asbestosis, a non-cancerous respiratory ailment in which the lung tissue becomes scarred. In many asbestos-related professions, an individual who develops lung cancer or mesothelioma also has asbestosis, and it’s been estimated that about one in seven asbestosis patients will eventually develop lung cancer.
More Information about Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma
To get more information about asbestos-related diseases and the legal rights of individuals and families affected by these diseases, contact a qualified mesothelioma lawyer in your area.