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Differences Between Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma

Key Takeaways: Although they present with similar symptoms, lung cancer and mesothelioma have different causes, treatments, and prognoses. Lung cancer is much more common than mesothelioma in the United States and is strongly associated with smoking. It is characterized by its location in the lungs. Mesothelioma is strongly associated with asbestos exposure, and is characterized by its location in the tissues in the chest cavity (which surround the lungs and heart).  

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is a common form of cancer that is characterized by its growth in the lungs. In 2022 alone, there were about 230,000 cases of diagnosed lung cancer in the United States. The most common risk factor for developing lung cancer is smoking. Importantly, though, asbestos exposure is also associated with a lung cancer diagnosis (although this is less common). There are several types of lung cancers, including:

Nodules: These are noticeable masses of tissue growth which can be removed with surgery.

Non-Small Cell: There are three camps of non-small cell lung cancer, depending on the type of cancerous cell detected and where it originates. This is the most common manifestation of lung cancer and spreads relatively slower than small cell lung cancer.

Small Cell: This is the most common form of lung cancer for patients that have smoked. It spreads rapidly.

Treatments for lung cancer are patient and context dependent. If caught early, the cancer can be removed via surgical intervention. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and clinical trials are all viable options for treatment as well.


What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that affects the lining of the chest cavity, which is a tissue called the mesothelium. While it’s adjacent to lung cancer in its position and presentation, it’s markedly different on account of its rarity and tissues affected. There were only ~3,000 cases reported in the United States in 2022 (compared to lung cancer’s prevalence of 230,000 cases). The most common risk factor associated with a mesothelioma diagnosis is asbestos exposure as compared to smoking for lung cancer. It’s important to note that while mesothelioma initially affects the tissues surrounding the lungs, it can spread to the lungs themselves in advanced stages. Check out the different manifestations of mesothelioma here.


How are Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer Similar? Different?

The symptoms of mesothelioma and lung cancer have a distinct overlap, which is why they’re often confused. They include: ● Shortness of breath ● Chest pain ● Difficulty breathing and swallowing ● General fatigue ● Loss of appetite ● A persistent cough that doesn’t resolve or gets worse with time ● A cough that worsens with movement, like laughing or exercise However, there are diagnostic measures to differentiate between lung cancer and mesothelioma. Approximately 90% of mesothelioma patients present with pleural effusion, which is excess fluid in the chest cavity/around the exterior of the lungs. Doctors can take a biopsy, or a small sample, of the fluid to be tested in a laboratory. Because the cells of the cancers occur in different tissues (lung tissue vs. mesothelium), present in different ways (excess fluid, nodules, etc.), and spread in different ways, scientists and doctors are able to generate accurate diagnoses. To reiterate the differences between lung cancer and mesothelioma:

LUNG CANCER ● Associated with smoking (can also be associated with asbestos exposure) ● Relatively common ● Originates in lung tissues

MESOTHELIOMA ● Associated with asbestos exposure ● Relatively rare ● Originates in tissues surrounding lungs, but can metastasize to lung tissues

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please call The Halpern Law Firm at (800) 505-6000. We are here to help you navigate the legal process of filing a claim to receive compensation for your cancer diagnosis. We help mesothelioma victims and their families in Pennsylvania.


Written By Carina Filemyr

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David brenton


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