What is the Difference Between Asbestosis and Mesothelioma?

Posted on behalf of Peter T. Nicholl in Mesothelioma & Asbestos Published on November 24, 2020 and updated on March 15, 2022.

looking at a lung xrayAsbestosis and mesothelioma are both incurable diseases caused by asbestos exposure. They can cause havoc in the lungs and share symptoms comparable to pneumonia, such as shortness of breath, persistent cough, chest pain and loss of appetite. However, that is where the similarities end. These diseases are very different when it comes to symptoms, health outcomes and treatment options.

Below, our Maryland mesothelioma lawyers discuss these differences in greater detail and how it affects asbestos victims and their loved ones. Our firm offers a complimentary and confidential consultation to discuss whether you have grounds to take legal action against those responsible for your mesothelioma or asbestosis diagnosis. You are not obligated after this initial meeting to hire us.

Defining These Diseases

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that develops primarily in the lining of the lungs and abdomen. Inhaling or ingesting a small amount of asbestos fibers over a prolonged period of time can cause these fibers to become trapped in the organ tissue and lead to cancerous growths or tumors.

The majority of mesothelioma cases in the U.S. has been linked to industrial and construction trades. Asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral, was used in a wide variety of materials, such as insulation, brakes, shingles and flooring because of its resistance to heat up until the mid-1970s.

Asbestosis, on the other hand, is not a type of cancer and is limited to the lungs and respiratory tract. This chronic respiratory disease is caused by long-term exposure to asbestos fibers. Inhaling these fibers can cause lung scarring and stiffness and lead to chronic breathing problems.

Many asbestosis cases in the U.S. can be tracked back to those who worked in the shipbuilding industry, where asbestos was previously used to insulate boilers, incinerators, hot water pipes and steam pipes. Construction workers, boiler mechanics, oil refiners and railroad workers were also exposed to asbestos.

Symptoms of These Diseases

Those diagnosed with mesothelioma generally experience earlier, more severe symptoms as the disease progresses compared to those diagnosed with asbestosis.

It can take between 20 and 50 years after asbestos exposure for mesothelioma symptoms to manifest. Some common symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid buildup around the lungs
  • Weight loss
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Bloating
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing and coughing

After asbestos exposure, it can take between 10 and 40 years for asbestosis symptoms to manifest. Some common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A persistent, dry cough or wheezing
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Rounder and wider fingertips and toes (clubbing)
  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • A crackling sound in the lungs when breathing

Asbestos exposure is responsible for at least 90 percent of all mesothelioma cases, and there are about 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

The exact figure of asbestosis cases is much less and often included in the case count above since an asbestosis diagnosis can put you at high risk of developing mesothelioma or lung cancer in the future.

Diagnosis and Prognosis

A biopsy is the only way to determine a mesothelioma diagnosis. Imaging tests and blood work may detect early signs of the disease. However, since symptoms can resemble other less serious diseases, it can be very challenging to detect. A mesothelioma diagnosis is also often confused with lung cancer.

A history of asbestos exposure is a good indicator for doctors to look for signs of mesothelioma. Sometimes getting a second opinion may help ensure the most effective treatment.

Although mesothelioma is incurable, those diagnosed may be given longer survival rates based on the mesothelioma cell type, their overall health, medical history and gender, among other factors. The average life expectancy after being diagnosed with mesothelioma is 12 to 21 months.

Asbestosis is a type of pulmonary fibrosis and can be hard to diagnose since certain symptoms can resemble asthma or pneumonia. A clear asbestosis diagnosis can only be done after ruling out other conditions and having absolute evidence of asbestos exposure.

Medical tests used to confirm an asbestosis diagnosis include chest X-rays that will show lung scarring and damage. A lung biopsy may be done in the most severe cases to help identify the fibers in the lungs.

While there is also no cure, the average life expectancy after being diagnosed with asbestosis is much higher than mesothelioma. Many victims can live with the disease for several decades with treatment.

Treatment Options Available

Mesothelioma is often treated with surgery in combination with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Doctors may also use different palliative treatments to help ease symptoms and improve quality of life.

Treating asbestosis is limited to surgical procedures that help with breathing and draining excess fluid that builds up in the lungs and chest cavity. In rare circumstances, a lung transplant may be needed.

Get in Touch With an Experienced Lawyer

If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, contact Peter T. Nicholl Law Offices for assistance. We offer a complimentary and confidential consultation to discuss your rights and potential legal options.

Our firm has obtained millions in compensation for our clients, including a verdict of $7.729 million on behalf of a boilermaker at a shipyard who was diagnosed with mesothelioma. You do not pay unless we win a recovery for you.

We have secured millions on behalf of our clients. Call 410-907-3957.