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Asbestosis vs Mesothelioma

Both mesothelioma and asbestosis are caused by exposure to asbestos. However, mesothelioma is an incurable cancer affecting several organs’ lining. Asbestosis is a non-cancerous type of pulmonary fibrosis that causes lung tissue to become thick and stiff as the disease progresses. A close look at mesothelioma vs asbestosis reveals that these two asbestos diseases have more differences than similarities.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

Last updated:

Asbestosis vs Mesothelioma Overview

Doctor checking an elderly male with a stethoscope.

Mesothelioma and asbestosis vastly differ in how they affect a patient’s health. However, both diseases are incurable, caused by asbestos, and have a long latency period (amount of time from initial exposure for symptoms to appear).

Symptoms of mesothelioma and asbestosis may not present for 10-50 years after initial exposure to asbestos.

The general prognosis (health outlook) for patients with these asbestos diseases varies depending on different factors. Most treatment options for both illnesses focus more on palliative care (improving quality of life) than curative treatment (removing the cancer).

“People diagnosed with asbestosis have a higher chance of developing asbestos-related cancers.”
—Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Center

Today, most mesothelioma and asbestosis cases involve exposures to asbestos fibers from asbestos-laden building materials and other asbestos products that occurred decades ago.

Get your Free Mesothelioma Survivors Guide to learn how getting an accurate diagnosis helped patients get the treatment they needed to live for years past their initial prognosis.

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Differences Between Asbestosis and Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma and asbestosis differ in several important ways.

For example, mesothelioma and asbestosis have different:

  • Diagnostic procedures
  • Symptoms and warning signs
  • Treatment options

Because mesothelioma and asbestosis are so different, they’re almost never treated by the same specialist. Mesothelioma must be diagnosed and treated by a doctor specializing in this rare type of cancer.

Mesothelioma Symptoms

Symptoms of mesothelioma often present as other health problems. Diagnosis can be difficult since this disease often looks like other types of cancer.

Common symptoms of mesothelioma include:

  • Blood in mucus that is coughed up from the lungs
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the face or neck veins
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Unexplained loss of appetite or weight loss

While there is no cure for this rare cancer, mesothelioma patients may survive longer depending on their cell type, age, overall health, and other factors.

Need help getting a diagnosis or second opinion?

Use our Free Doctor Match program today to connect with top specialists in your area.

Asbestosis Symptoms

Asbestosis is a progressive lung disease. That means that the disease gets worse over time.

Smokers have a greater risk of developing lung cancer in addition to asbestosis, and quitting is imperative to avoid serious complications.

Symptoms common in patients with asbestosis include:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Dry, crackling sound in the lungs while breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rounder and wider toes and fingertips (clubbing)
  • Weight loss

If you or a loved one have any of the above symptoms, talk to a doctor and tell them if you’ve ever been exposed to asbestos.

Diagnosing Asbestosis vs Mesothelioma

Another way that mesothelioma and asbestosis differ is in how doctors diagnose them. Because mesothelioma is a cancer, specialists must accurately identify cell types and disease stages.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis

People can be diagnosed with different types of mesothelioma. The two most common types of mesothelioma are malignant pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma can be confused with lung cancer, as both types of cancer have similar symptoms. A history of asbestos exposure is an indicator for doctors to look for mesothelioma.

During examinations, doctors will review medical history and genetics to determine if more tests should be ordered and deciphered by specialists.

Imaging tests for diagnosing mesothelioma include:

  • Bone scans
  • Computed tomography (CT/CAT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • X-rays

Other lab tests, including biopsies and blood tests, take cells from the lung to determine the diagnosis by examining the cells under a microscope.

While looking at the images from all scans and tests, mesothelioma doctors can rule out the possibility of lung cancer if a history of asbestos exposure is present.

Asbestosis Diagnosis

Doctors diagnose asbestosis by reviewing a patient’s medical history, asking about their asbestos exposure, and running several tests.

Tests used to diagnose asbestosis include:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Computed tomography (CT/CAT) scan
  • Lung function test

Treating Mesothelioma vs Asbestosis

A doctor reviews a treatment plan with a patient

Patients experience vastly different disease symptoms and progression depending on whether they have mesothelioma or asbestosis. Because each disease behaves so differently, they each require their own treatment approach.

Mesothelioma Treatment

Doctors often administer a multimodal treatment plan (two or more types of therapy) for mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma patients receive different treatments depending on:

  • Disease stage
  • Disease location
  • Mesothelioma cell type
  • Overall health

Depending on the above factors, mesothelioma specialists may recommend the following treatments:

  • Chemotherapy: Drugs are injected into the bloodstream to kill cancer cells.
  • Palliative care: To help ease symptoms and improve quality of life, doctors use a combination of palliative treatments.
  • Radiation: Doctors use radiation therapy to treat, shrink, or relieve symptoms.
  • Surgery: Surgery allows doctors to remove visible signs of mesothelioma physically.

Researchers continue to study cutting-edge treatments for mesothelioma in clinical trials. Some of these promising treatments include immunotherapy and targeted therapy.

See what treatments helped patients diagnosed with mesothelioma outlive their prognosis in our Free Survivors Guide.

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Asbestosis Treatment

There are no curative treatments for asbestosis, but there are steps that patients can take to slow down the progression of the disease and ease symptoms. For example, patients with asbestosis should stop smoking and avoid other irritants.

Other asbestosis treatments include:

  • Bronchodilator inhalers
  • Exercise programs
  • Oxygen therapy (for advanced cases)

In severe cases, patients may need a lung transplant. However, many patients may not be eligible due to other medical problems or advanced age.

Doctors and specialists can determine other treatment methods based on available clinical trials.

Use our Free Doctor Match to find leading specialists who can create a custom treatment plan for you or a loved one.

Getting a Second Opinion on Asbestosis vs Mesothelioma

Because asbestos-related diseases are very rare, it can be difficult for even the most experienced physician to diagnose either disease from the start.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestosis — or you suspect you have either disease — it’s a good idea to seek a second opinion from an expert. A misdiagnosis can send a patient to an incorrect treatment plan.

A second opinion for mesothelioma diagnosis is extremely valuable, as an accurate diagnosis provides the greatest chance of survival.

By getting an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment, many cancer patients have been able to outlive their prognosis. Read their stories in our Free Survivors Guide — shipped to your door overnight.

Asbestosis vs Mesothelioma FAQs

How can you tell the difference between mesothelioma and asbestosis?

Asbestosis and mesothelioma are not the same, but both are caused by asbestos exposure.

Asbestosis is a non-cancerous lung disease that leads to the scarring of lung tissue. In contrast, mesothelioma is a rare cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or other body parts.

These two asbestos diseases have different treatment protocols and prognoses. A mesothelioma doctor can help patients get an accurate diagnosis.

Can you get mesothelioma without asbestosis?

Yes, asbestosis does not turn into mesothelioma. Both mesothelioma and asbestosis are different asbestos-related diseases.

However, patients “diagnosed with asbestosis have a higher chance of developing asbestos-related cancers,” according to Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.

It is not unusual for a person to have asbestosis and other asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma or lung cancer.

Patients with asbestosis usually die from mesothelioma, lung cancer, or natural causes and not asbestosis itself.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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  1. MedBroadcast, “Abestosis.” Retrieved from: Accessed on February 15, 2024.
  2. American Lung Association. “Asbestosis Symptoms and Diagnosis.” Retrieved from: Accessed on February 15, 2024.
  3. BMJ Best Practice, “Asbestosis.” Retrieved from: Accessed on February 15, 2024.
  4. NHS Inform, “Asbestosis.” Retrieved from: Accessed on February 15, 2024.
  5. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “Asbestos-Related Lung Diseases.” Retrieved from: Accessed on February 15, 2024.
  6. Medscape, “Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment Protocols.” Retrieved from: Accessed on February 15, 2024.
  7. Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Center. “The Asbestos and Mesothelioma Connection.” Retrieved from: Accessed on February 15, 2024.
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