Frequently Asked Questions About Mesothelioma

A mesothelioma diagnosis can bring a lot of questions and concerns, but we’re here to help. The Mesothelioma Hope team has compiled a list of common questions — and answers — about this type of cancer and what kinds of treatments are available. Our team can also connect you with medical care and financial aid after a mesothelioma diagnosis. Learn more below.

Fact-Checked and Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Assuntina Sacco

Common Questions About Mesothelioma

What Is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive and rare cancer that develops in the linings of major organs, including the lungs (pleura), abdomen (peritoneum), heart (pericardium), or testicles (tunica vaginalis).

About 3,000 cases of malignant mesothelioma are diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Mesothelioma spreads quickly, and long-term survival outcomes are often poor. Fortunately, medical care is available for all patients. Further, many mesothelioma patients qualify for financial aid to cover their medical expenses and other bills.

The Mesothelioma Hope team stands ready to help you and your family after a mesothelioma diagnosis. Order our Free Mesothelioma Guide to learn about the various types of medical treatment and financial options available to you.

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What Causes Mesothelioma?

The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a very durable, fiber-like mineral that was once used in more than 3,000 different products such as insulation, brake pads, and roofing material.

Detailed view of an asbestos chrysotile fiber stone

When someone works with asbestos-based products, tiny fibers can be released into the air. If inhaled or swallowed, the fibers can become lodged within the lining of the lungs, abdomen, heart, or testicles and irritate nearby cells.

After 10-50 years, asbestos fibers cause healthy cells to mutate, transforming them into cancerous ones.

Makers of asbestos-containing products learned of the deadly risks back in the 1930s but didn’t reveal the truth so they could keep making money. By the time the dangers were fully known in the early 1980s, over 27 million people had been exposed to asbestos at their jobs, with countless more exposed in other ways.

What Are the Types of Mesothelioma?

The types of mesothelioma are: 

  • Pleural mesothelioma: This is the most common type of mesothelioma, making up around 80% of all cases. It develops in the lining of the lungs.
  • Peritoneal mesotheliomaThe second most common type, this cancer accounts for roughly 10% of cases and forms in the abdominal lining.
  • Pericardial mesothelioma: This is a rare form of mesothelioma, developing in the lining of the heart. It’s very difficult to diagnose and treat.
  • Testicular mesotheliomaForming in the lining of the testicles, this is the rarest type of mesothelioma. However, doctors can often effectively treat this cancer and help patients live longer.

Medical care is available for all types of mesothelioma.

What Are the 4 Stages of Mesothelioma?

There are 4 stages of pleural mesothelioma. Stage 1 is the least advanced and is the easiest to treat, while stage 4 cancer has spread throughout the body and is very hard to treat. However, there are treatments available for all stages of mesothelioma.

The other types of mesothelioma do not have formal stages, but doctors can determine if the tumors are localized or advanced and recommend treatments from there.

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

There are several symptoms of mesothelioma, including:

  • Blood in coughed-up mucus (sputum)
  • Blood in fecal matter
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the upper back
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Rib pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shoulder pain
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite

Mesothelioma symptoms often don’t appear until 10-50 years after asbestos exposure due to the cancer’s long latency period (the time it takes to develop).

Further, mesothelioma symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions and can be easy to overlook. If you have any of the above symptoms and were exposed to asbestos decades ago, see a doctor immediately.

You can also call our Patient Advocates at (866) 608-8933 to get help if you might have mesothelioma. We’ll connect you with top doctors and medical care if you qualify.

What Are the Risk Factors for Mesothelioma?

The single most significant risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos.

If you or a family member worked with or around asbestos, you are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma later in life.

Additional mesothelioma risk factors include:

  • Age: Mesothelioma typically develops in those over the age of 65.
  • Gender: Most industries that relied on asbestos were male-dominated, so men are more likely to develop mesothelioma than women.
  • Race: White people were more likely to work with or around asbestos than people of other races.

How Is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

Mesothelioma is diagnosed with a multi-step process. If your general doctor thinks you might have cancer based on your symptoms and asbestos exposure history, they’ll likely refer you to cancer specialists that can help diagnose you.

A doctor reviews an X-ray with a patient

These specialists will use imaging scans (like X-rays or CT scans), blood tests, and other exams to determine if you might have cancer. From there, they’ll use a biopsy (extraction of fluid/tissue sample) to confirm your mesothelioma diagnosis.

Mesothelioma often doesn’t cause many symptoms in its early stages and is very rare, which makes it easy to overlook or misdiagnose. These are just a few of many reasons why it’s critical that you connect with a mesothelioma doctor to get properly diagnosed.

We can help you find top specialists who can accurately diagnose you. Use our Free Doctor Match now.

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Do I Need a Second Opinion After a Mesothelioma Diagnosis?

Yes. Mesothelioma is a complex disease, and you should always get a second opinion if you are diagnosed with it. A second opinion allows another doctor to look at the results of your diagnosis and make sure it’s correct.

Some insurance policies also require a second opinion before they will cover treatment. Mesothelioma cancer centers can often provide second opinions in-house, while hospitals without mesothelioma doctors on staff can outsource a second opinion.

What Are Common Mesothelioma Cell Types?

Doctors can determine which of three mesothelioma cell types you have while reviewing your biopsy samples.

The three mesothelioma cell types include: 

  1. Epithelioid mesotheliomaFound in about 70% of mesothelioma cases, these cells are rectangular and don’t spread as quickly as the other cell types, making them easier to treat.
  2. Sarcomatoid mesotheliomaThe rarest cell type, sarcomatoid mesothelioma cells are spindle-shaped and spread very quickly, so patients often have a poor prognosis (health outlook).
  3. Biphasic mesotheliomaThis type occurs when a tumor is made up of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. How easy it is to treat depends on if there are more epithelioid mesothelioma cells present.

Questions About Mesothelioma Treatments

Is There Any Treatment for Mesothelioma?

Yes. There are many treatment options available for all types of mesothelioma.

Common mesothelioma treatments include:

Different mesothelioma treatments may be used depending on where the cancer formed, which stage it’s in, your overall health, and other factors.

Download our Free Questions to Ask Your Doctor Checklist to get the answers you need about mesothelioma treatment options.

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What Is a Multimodal Approach to Mesothelioma Treatment?

Multimodal therapy is currently considered the most effective mesothelioma treatment for people with pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma.

This approach combines 3 types of treatment:

The treatments can be used in different combinations for best results. For example, chemotherapy and/or radiation may be used to shrink tumors before surgery.

In cases of peritoneal mesothelioma, patients may undergo surgery first followed by heated chemotherapy — a post-surgical procedure in which the abdomen is filled with chemotherapy for several hours to kill any remaining cancer cells.

What Is the Life Expectancy of a Person With Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma life expectancies vary depending on the mesothelioma type, stage, and treatment strategy.

  • Pleural mesothelioma patients have an average survival time of 12-21 months, but some can live for over 35 months with surgeries and other treatments.
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma patients can live for 53 months if they receive cytoreductive surgery with heated chemotherapy (HIPEC).
  • Pericardial mesothelioma patients have the worst overall prognosis and shortest life expectancy (2-6 months.) However, some patients can live longer with treatment.
  • Testicular mesothelioma patients can live for almost as long as peritoneal mesothelioma patients with the right treatment. The average life expectancy is more than 46 months.

Mesothelioma Hope can help you find doctors and treatments that can help you live as long as possible. Call our Patient Advocates at (866) 608-8933 to get started.

Should I Participate in a Mesothelioma Clinical Trial?

Clinical trials give patients the opportunity to test new treatments that could be more effective than standard ones. Existing treatments such as immunotherapy were approved for wide-scale use after showing they helped patients in mesothelioma clinical trials.

A mesothelioma doctor speaks with an older male patient

If you are considering clinical trials, talk to your doctor about your eligibility and the pros and cons, to see if it’s the right decision for your circumstance. Not everyone will qualify to join a clinical trial as the eligibility requirements for each study are unique. For example, some trials will only be available to those with one type of mesothelioma.

Is There a Cure for Mesothelioma?

There is no cure for mesothelioma at this time, but cancer treatments are helping some patients live much longer. For this reason, mesothelioma is not always fatal or considered a death sentence, even though it’s not curable.

Some mesothelioma patients have lived for more than 20 years after their diagnosis thanks to mesothelioma treatments.

Get our Free Mesothelioma Guide to learn about treatments that can help you become a long-term mesothelioma survivor.

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Common Questions About Asbestos

If Asbestos Is So Dangerous, Why Was It Commonly Used?

Before the late 1970s and early 1980s, the dangers of asbestos were largely unknown to the public. The makers of asbestos-based products knew the risks but concealed them to make money.

Instead, asbestos was seen as an incredible material because it was lightweight, fireproof, waterproof, and inexpensive. All of these qualities made it highly desirable in a wide range of industries.

Will the Asbestos in My House Give Me Mesothelioma?

Possibly. Asbestos-based products that are not damaged or disturbed do not pose a health risk. You are only in danger of asbestos exposure when asbestos is disturbed and becomes airborne.

If you’re concerned that you might have mesothelioma after asbestos exposure, contact our team of Patient Advocates right now.

Isn’t Asbestos Banned in the United States?

No. Many countries have banned asbestos, including Australia, Denmark, and Ireland, but the United States is not one of them.

Asbestos use is heavily restricted, but it isn’t outright banned. In fact, 300 tons of asbestos were imported into America in 2021, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Questions About At-Risk Asbestos Occupations

What Occupations Have the Highest Mesothelioma Risk?

Many trades, construction, and manufacturing jobs put workers at risk of developing mesothelioma later in life. The more someone was exposed, the higher the likelihood of being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Some of those at high risk of asbestos exposure included:

How Do I Know if I Was Exposed to Asbestos at Work?

If you worked in one of these at-risk occupations before the 1980s — or you are a U.S. military veteran — there’s a high chance you were exposed to asbestos in your day-to-day work.

Our team can help determine if you were exposed to asbestos on the job. Connect with one of our Patient Advocates to learn more.

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What Legal Options Do Mesothelioma Victims Have?

Many legal options may be available for mesothelioma victims. In many cases, mesothelioma patients receive $1 million or more through legal claims.

People with a mesothelioma diagnosis can file lawsuits for damages due to negligence, while family members can file for wrongful death. In some cases, mesothelioma victims can receive a settlement or access asbestos trust funds without going to court at all.

To find out what legal options are currently available to you, contact an experienced mesothelioma lawyer.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Mesothelioma Lawsuit?

The statutes of limitations for mesothelioma lawsuits vary by state and the type of claim. These limits are also subject to change, but typically a patient only has a few years after diagnosis to file their lawsuit.

The Mesothelioma Hope team can determine how long you have to pursue a mesothelioma lawsuit. Reach out to us at (866) 608-8933 now.

Who Should I Contact to Start a Lawsuit?

Asbestos laws are complex, even for lawyers who aren’t familiar with the protocols and procedures. Therefore, it’s crucial that you work with an experienced mesothelioma lawyer with a proven track record of success.

To learn more about seeking legal justice for mesothelioma, contact us today.

Reviewed by:Dr. Assuntina Sacco

Board-Certified Oncologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Assuntina Sacco, MD is an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Moores Cancer Center, where she also serves as the Medical Director of Infusion Services. She is a board-certified medical oncologist trained to treat all solid tumor types, with the use of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and clinical trials.

Dr. Assuntina Sacco is an independently paid medical reviewer.

  • Board-Certified Oncologist
  • Associate Professor at UC San Diego
  • Published Medical Author
Written by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 14 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

5 References
  1. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2014, August 26). Asbestos toxicity: Who is at risk of exposure to asbestos? Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/asbestos/who_is_at_risk.html

  2. American Cancer Society. (2019, January 9). Key statistics about malignant mesothelioma. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/about/key-statistics.html

  3. Connecticut State Department of Public Health. (n.d.). General information about asbestos. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://portal.ct.gov/DPH/Asbestos-Program/Asbestos-Program/General-Information-About-Asbestos-and-Health-Effects

  4. Enomoto, L., & Et al. (2019, May 7). Cytoreductive surgery with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy for peritoneal mesothelioma: Patient selection and special considerations. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://academic.oup.com/ejcts/article/52/5/975/3805405?login=true

  5. Moffitt Cancer Center. (n.d.). Sarcomatoid mesothelioma, symptoms & treatment. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://moffitt.org/cancers/mesothelioma/diagnosis/types/sarcomatoid-mesothelioma/

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