Asbestosis vs Mesothelioma

Both mesothelioma and asbestosis are caused by exposure to asbestos. However, mesothelioma is an incurable cancer that affects the lining of several organs. 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.

Written and Fact-Checked by: Laura Wright

Asbestosis vs Mesothelioma Overview

Doctor checking an elderly male with a stethoscope.

Mesothelioma and asbestosis are vastly different 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 for patients with these asbestos diseases varies depending on different factors. Most treatment options for both illnesses are focused more on palliative care (improving quality of life) rather than curative treatment (removing the actual cancer).

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

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

Wondering if you or a loved were exposed? Check out our Free Asbestos Products Guide.

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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 achieve longer survival rates depending on their mesothelioma cell type, age, overall health, and other factors.

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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, make sure to talk to a doctor and tell them if you’ve ever been exposed to asbestos.

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Diagnosing Asbestosis vs Mesothelioma

Another way that mesothelioma and asbestosis differ is in how they are diagnosed by doctors. Because mesothelioma is a cancer, it requires a different set of specialists to accurately identify cell type and disease stage.

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 figure out 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 and asbestos exposure history 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

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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

Most often, doctors 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 physically remove visible signs of mesothelioma.

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

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with mesothelioma? Our Free Mesothelioma Guide is loaded with information on treatment options, top doctors, financial aid, and more.

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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.

Other methods of treatment can be determined by doctors and specialists based on available clinical trials.

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 accurately 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.

Our Free List of Questions to Ask Your Doctor can help you get information on second opinions, clinical trials, and more.

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Mesothelioma Second Opinion

Diagnosing mesothelioma, even in a lab looking at samples from tests, is extremely difficult as the cells often resemble other forms of cancer. Pathology reports can be delivered to pathologists at different labs for a second opinion.

Of the several cell types and subtypes of mesothelioma, some resemble lung cancer strongly, while others in women look like ovarian cancer. A misdiagnosis can send a patient down the path of an incorrect treatment plan.

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

Asbestosis Second Opinion

Asbestosis is also difficult to diagnose, as symptoms often look like other problems. Chest X-rays can reveal lung scarring, and lung function tests may indicate asbestos exposure as the cause of symptoms.

Doctors need clear evidence that asbestos exposure has occurred to diagnose asbestosis and tests can help indicate this if patients are unsure if they’ve been exposed to asbestos. In rare cases, a lung biopsy may be the best option for diagnosis, as lab techs can see asbestos dust in the samples.

For more information on seeking a second opinion on your diagnosis, contact Mesothelioma Hope today to speak to our Patient Advocates.

Asbestosis vs Mesothelioma FAQs

Is asbestosis the same as mesothelioma?

No, asbestosis and mesothelioma are not the same.

Both are caused by asbestos exposure.

However, 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.

Does asbestosis turn into mesothelioma?

No, 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.

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.

7 References
  1. MedBroadcast, “Abestosis.” Retrieved from: http://www.medbroadcast.com/condition/getcondition/asbestosis. Accessed on January 4, 2023.

  2. American Lung Association. “Asbestosis Symptoms and Diagnosis.” Retrieved from: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asbestosis/symptoms-diagnosis. Accessed on January 4, 2023.

  3. BMJ Best Practice, “Asbestosis.” Retrieved from: http://bestpractice.bmj.com/topics/en-us/650. Accessed on January 4, 2023.

  4. NHS Inform, “Asbestosis.” Retrieved from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/lungs-and-airways/asbestosis. Accessed on January 4, 2023.

  5. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “Asbestos-Related Lung Diseases.” Retrieved from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asbestos-related-lung-diseases. Accessed on January 4, 2022.

  6. Medscape, “Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment Protocols.” Retrieved from: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1999348-overview. Accessed on January 4, 2023.

  7. Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Center. “The Asbestos and Mesothelioma Connection.” Retrieved from: https://www.pennmedicine.org/cancer/types-of-cancer/mesothelioma/asbestos-cancer/asbestos-poisoning. Accessed on January 4, 2023.

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