Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, around 3,000 new cases occur in the United States each year.
Pleural mesothelioma is a specific type of mesothelioma that affects the lungs. However, malignant mesothelioma is not lung cancer. The two share some similarities but also many differences.
Location and description
Lung cancer develops within the lung tissue and usually consists of large masses. Mesothelioma occurs in the mesothelium, a thin layer of tissue surrounding the outside of the lungs, and generally consists of many small nodules.
Causes and latency period
Both cancers can occur as a result of exposure to carcinogens, substances that cause cancer. For lung cancer, there are many factors that increase risk, with the most significant being smoking.
In contrast, most cases of mesothelioma share one common cause: asbestos exposure. According to the American Cancer Society, the vast majority of mesothelioma cases occur as a result of workplace exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma has a longer latency period than lung cancer. This is the span of time between exposure to carcinogens and the development of cancer. For lung cancer, the latency period is generally 10-30 years, while mesothelioma can occur up to 60 years after exposure.
Treatment and prognosis
Both lung cancer and mesothelioma can progress quickly. However, while lung cancer often metastasizes throughout the body, mesothelioma generally remains within the chest cavity. Due to the nature of the tumors, which are numerous and have poorly defined borders, surgical treatment of mesothelioma can be difficult. The overall five-year survival rate for mesothelioma is lower than that of lung cancer.
While uncommon, mesothelioma is a potentially devastating disease. People who have experienced asbestos exposure at work should be aware of the risk of developing this rare cancer.