How are mesothelioma and lung cancer different?

Receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma is one of the most devastating incidents any patient could experience. As you research the condition, you will probably find many comparisons between mesothelioma and lung cancer. Although the two share similarities such as developing in the lung region, they are not the same – in fact, they have many differences.

The differences: what to know

Both lung cancer and mesothelioma are malignancies involving the spread of cancerous cells. However, mesothelioma is not a form of lung cancer. Both diseases have long latency periods of 15-40 years or more (at least insofar as asbestos is concerned), meaning they take a long time to develop. While both diseases share similar symptoms and can be terminal, the survivability rate for lung cancer is higher than for mesothelioma. Plus, there are other critical differences between the two:

  • Causes: Asbestos exposure is the only medically established cause of mesothelioma. Lung cancer can be caused by asbestos exposure alone, but usually it develops due to smoking in combination with asbestos exposure. Smoking and asbestos exposure have a synergistic effect, meaning the risk of developing lung cancer multiplies for someone exposed to both carcinogens.
  • Location: There are actually three forms of mesothelioma. The most common one  develops in the pleural tissue lining the outside of the lungs. The other two forms can develop either in the linings of the diaphragm/chest or the heart. Lung cancer occurs only in the lung tissue inside the lungs, though it can spread to other areas of the body. Using an orange by analogy, mesothelioma can be said to affect the peel, while lung cancer affects the pulp.
  • Frequency: Mesothelioma is far more rare than lung cancer. Every year, around 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma compared to about 235,000 Americans who are diagnosed with lung cancer.
  • Cell shape: Mesothelial cells grow together into a blanketlike tumor. Lung cancer cells have a defined boundary but can spread during metastasis.

Correct radiological and pathological diagnosis is key to differentiating whether you have mesothelioma or lung cancer. Fortunately, it is rare for the conditions to exist together.

Treating mesothelioma vs. lung cancer

Because they both are malignancies, the treatments for these conditions are often similar. Treating lung cancer and mesothelioma almost always requires a form of radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. Surgical removal of the underlying tumor or malignant cells is also often used in addition to radiation and chemotherapy.

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