Mesothelioma vs Lung Cancer

Initial symptoms of lung cancer and mesothelioma are so similar that without further tests and specialist attention, making a precise diagnosis is nearly impossible. Only mesothelioma specialists can provide an accurate mesothelioma diagnosis, as general oncologists (doctors that specialize in cancer) typically don’t have the experience required to recognize this rare disease.

Mesothelioma vs Lung Cancer Overview

Though both cancers, mesothelioma and lung cancer are entirely different diseases. They develop and spread differently and require entirely different treatment approaches. A patient’s health critically depends on obtaining an accurate diagnosis of mesothelioma vs. lung cancer.

Mesothelioma Overview

Mesothelioma is caused by ingesting or inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers. Once inhaled or ingested, asbestos fibers become trapped in organ tissue and are almost incapable of being removed naturally.

Asbestos leads to mesothelioma due to the changes this toxin triggers at a cellular level. Asbestos triggers genetic damage, scarring and inflammation that can lead to cancer—often diagnosed 10-50 years after exposure to asbestos.

Lung Cancer Overview

Unlike mesothelioma which has only one known cause (asbestos), lung cancer has multiple possible causes and can develop differently depending on its underlying cause.

Lung cancer is an abnormal growth in the lungs’ cells that can form into tumors that spread to other areas of the body. Smoking is a high cause of lung cancer. When combined with any other risk factors, smoking exponentially increases the risk of getting lung cancer.

Other factors that contribute to lung cancer can include:

  • Secondhand smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Genetic history
  • Radiation or radon exposure
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • Being infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Differences Between Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer Cells

There are two distinct differences between lung cancer cells and mesothelioma cells when looked at under a microscope. These differences are what allow doctors to reach an accurate diagnosis.

Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma Grow Differently

Lung cancer typically grows with defined boundaries in individual masses. Mesothelioma originally starts as small nodule tumors scattered in the mesothelial lining. Eventually, they grow together to form a sheath-like tumor surrounding the lung or other organs.

While lung cancer is only present in the lung area itself, mesothelioma can present itself in the lungs, heart, abdomen, and testes.

Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma Appear Differently in Tests

Mesothelioma under an MRI scan reveals diseased tissue (tumors) through the rate of energy release. MRI scans align the water molecules in a person’s body with a magnetic field which are disrupted by a second radio frequency electromagnetic field to encourage the protons to release energy that is detected by the scanner.

Additional magnetic field scans capture images of the tumor to determine which form of cancer is present and how far it has spread.

X-rays and CT scans give doctors a look at soft tissue lining the chest cavity. Images from these tests reveal a distinction between lung cancer, pneumonia or mesothelioma.

Diagnosing Mesothelioma vs Lung Cancer

A mesothelioma diagnosis can be confused with lung cancer, as both diseases have similar sets of symptoms A history of asbestos exposure is a huge indicator doctors look for in mesothelioma specifically.

Most often, doctors identify mesothelioma and lung cancer because of other problems the diseases cause.

Early mesothelioma warning signs include:

  • Cough that doesn’t go away
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blood in mucus coughed up from the lungs
  • Swelling in the face or neck veins
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Unexplained loss of appetite or weight loss

During examination, doctors review genetics and medical history to figure out if they should order more tests.

Imaging tests for diagnosing mesothelioma include:

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

Other lab tests, including biopsies and blood tests, take cells from the lung to examine under a microscope. How cells appear and behave under the microscope tells doctors what type of cancer is present.

In addition to examining individual cells, doctors may also look at the tumors—clumps of cancerous tissue. Scattered tumor-like nodules that form a sheath that surrounds the lung is a sign of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma tumors are not maintained by a boundary the way lung cancer tumors usually are.

Since lung cancer is a more common diagnosis, it must be ruled out first before diagnosing the patient with mesothelioma.

Treating Mesothelioma vs Lung Cancer

Because mesothelioma and lung cancer are different diseases, they require different treatment plans. Both cancer types require multimodal treatment, meaning more than one type of targeted therapy. Which treatments and the order in which they are used depend entirely on the patient and their disease stage.

Options for mesothelioma treatment based on specialist recommendations could include:

  • Radiation Therapy: External and internal forms of radiation therapy can be used to treat, shrink, or relieve symptoms.
  • Chemotherapy: Drugs that are provided by vein or orally to attack the cancerous cells through the bloodstream to reach cancer anywhere in the body.
  • Surgery: Utilizing surgery to remove cancer or as much of the cancerous growth as possible, depending on the stage presenting.
  • Palliative Treatments: Methods that can also be used to help improve quality of life and relieve symptoms.

Options for lung cancer treatment based on specialist recommendations could include:

  • Surgery: Utilizing surgery to remove cancerous growths, depending on the stage of the cancer, may be the best option for a cure.
  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA): Using high-energy radio waves to heat the tumor, which destroys the cells.
  • Radiation therapy: External and internal forms of radiation therapy can be used to treat, shrink, or relieve symptoms.
  • Chemotherapy: Drugs that are provided by vein or orally to attack the cancerous cells through the bloodstream to reach cancer anywhere in the body.
  • Targeted therapies: Alternative drugs that work differently than chemotherapy and typically have less severe effects. These are often used for advanced forms of cancer either alone or in tandem with chemotherapy treatments.
  • Immunotherapy: Medicine specifically used to stimulate the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more efficiently.
  • Palliative treatments: Methods that can also be used to help improve quality of life and relieve symptoms. There are numerous treatments for symptoms that include fluid buildup around the heart, an airway blocked by a tumor, and fluid buildup around the lungs.

Getting a Second Opinion on Mesothelioma vs Lung Cancer

Diagnosing mesothelioma, even in a lab looking at samples from fluid tests, is extremely difficult as cells often resemble other forms of cancer. This is why mesothelioma is so often misdiagnosed as lung cancer.

It’s critical to get a second opinion on a mesothelioma vs lung cancer diagnosis whenever a history of asbestos is involved.

Of the several subtypes of mesothelioma, some resemble lung cancer strongly, while others in women look like ovarian cancer. Getting an accurate diagnosis like that from a second opinion can dramatically impact patient survival.

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

Mesothelioma Support Team

Mesothelioma Hope was founded by a team of advocates to educate people about this aggressive form of cancer. Mesothelioma affects thousands of people each year. We help give hope to those impacted by mesothelioma.

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