Unfortunately, there are quite a few myths regarding mesothelioma, the rare and aggressive disease caused by asbestos exposure. Some people ask, “Is mesothelioma contagious?” Others believe the disease is linked to smoking. These are all myths about mesothelioma and asbestos that should be corrected.

These incorrect beliefs range from how people develop mesothelioma to where the disease forms within the body. Other mesothelioma myths include the demographics affected by mesothelioma, the amount of asbestos exposure needed to develop the sickness and the legality of using the substance in the United States.

Let’s put an end to the most common mesothelioma myths right here and now.

Mesothelioma Guide is a trusted source for all medical and legal information related to mesothelioma. Our experts debunk 14 of the most popular myths about mesothelioma and asbestos.


Myth No. 1: Smoking Is Linked to Mesothelioma

Smoking does not cause mesothelioma. Smoking does not increase the chances of getting mesothelioma. Asbestos is the only cause of mesothelioma, which forms when cells turn cancerous in one of three areas of the body: the lungs (pleura), abdominal cavity (peritoneum) and heart (pericardium). Inhaling harmful smoke causes lung cancer specifically.


Myth No. 2: Mesothelioma Is a Lung Cancer

Mesothelioma is not a lung cancer, but one type of mesothelioma is similar to lung cancer. Pleural mesothelioma forms in the pleura, which is a protective membrane that separates the lungs from your chest wall. Pleural mesothelioma can metastasize to the lungs but does not form there, which is why it’s not lung cancer.


Myth No. 3: Mesothelioma Only Affects the Lungs

Mesothelioma affects much more than just the lungs. Pleural mesothelioma spreads to the lungs first, usually, but it can also reach the heart, abdomen, esophagus, and more. Peritoneal mesothelioma forms in the lining around the abdominal cavity, which includes the spleen, liver, pancreas, stomach, gallbladder, and more.


Myth No. 4: Mesothelioma Is Contagious

Mesothelioma is not contagious. This is another harmful myth about mesothelioma. It is not the same as COVID-19 or a common cold or an STI. It cannot spread from human contact or germs. The only cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. This mineral can be spready through human-to-human contact, but this is not a sign of contagiousness. If someone with mesothelioma coughs near you, there is no risk of you getting this cancer.


Myth No. 5: Mesothelioma Only Affects the Elderly

Mesothelioma mostly affects elderly people, but there are cases of people as young as their 40s or 30s. The latency period for mesothelioma is the amount of time a disease takes to develop, and it’s 20-50 years. For people who were exposed as a child — from their parents or from their environment — they can show signs of mesothelioma cancer in young adulthood.


Myth No. 6: You Must Work With Asbestos to Develop Mesothelioma

Occupational exposure to asbestos is the most likely way to develop this cancer. However, there are other ways to be exposed and saying otherwise is a big myth about asbestos and mesothelioma.

You could live near an asbestos mine — such as the one in Libby, Montana — or an asbestos processing plant. These instances are known as environmental exposure.

You also could have consistent interaction with someone who worked with asbestos. Maybe you were the wife of an insulation worker and regularly washed their work clothes. Maybe you were the child of someone who worked on old automobiles, which were heavy with asbestos around brake linings and gaskets. If you hugged your parent after their work day, you may have breathed in asbestos stuck to their work clothes. These are examples of secondhand exposure.

Another possibility is exposure to asbestos from using cosmetics or other health and beauty products. Asbestos can mix with talc, another mineral. Many talc companies have been sued due to their products having asbestos and causing consumers to develop mesothelioma cancer.


Myth No. 7: The Larger the Amount of Your Asbestos Exposure, the More Likely a Person Is to Get Mesothelioma

There is no proven correlation between the quantity of asbestos exposure and the risk of developing mesothelioma. A person who works one day in a construction or insulation job could find out 30 or 40 years later they have the disease. The only variable is whether or not asbestos fibers entered your body, were not expelled, lodged into the mesothelium, and caused cellular mutation. Again, there is no exact correlation between amount of exposure and likelihood to develop mesothelioma.


Myth No. 8: All Types of Asbestos Are Banned in the United States

Chrysotile asbestos is banned in the United States. In March of 2024, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled to ban the import, production, manufacturing, sale, distribution and use of chrysotile asbestos, which is the most common of the six types of the mineral. Chrysotile asbestos is primarily used in the chlor-alkali industry to produce chlorine diaphragms. 

However, the other five asbestos types are not officially banned in the United States, but they are heavily regulated. The EPA requires companies to report all uses of asbestos for approval or rejection on a case-by-case basis. 

At one point, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, asbestos was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, the ban was overturned by a Circuit Court in New Orleans. There have been a few attempts to pass legislation to ban all types of asbestos. Fortunately, most companies don’t use it due to legal liabilities.


Myth No. 9: Companies That Produced and Sold Asbestos Didn’t Know of the Health Risks

For some companies, maybe this is true. For many of them? They knew asbestos was dangerous.

Not only did they know of asbestos’ health risks, they also hid the information from their workers and the general public for many years. They put millions of lives at risk, caused thousands of deaths and emotionally scarred many American families. They did wrong, from both a moral and legal standpoint.


Myth No. 10: Mesothelioma Only Affects Men

Mesothelioma affects men more than women, but that’s largely because men are more likely to work in jobs that include asbestos. Hundreds to more than 1,000 women each year are told they have mesothelioma. Most of them have peritoneal mesothelioma. Many of them develop mesothelioma through secondhand exposure and use of talcum powder products, like Baby Powder.


Myth No. 11: Mesothelioma Is Untreatable and Always Has a Poor Prognosis

This myth about mesothelioma is possibly the most dangerous one to spread, because it can suck all hope from patients and their families.

Mesothelioma is treatable, and a long survival is possible. The options include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation. The recommended strategy involves a combination of the four, such as surgery combined with immunotherapy and chemotherapy. This is called a multimodal treatment.

While mesothelioma is aggressive, the prognosis isn’t always discouraging. The average prognosis for mesothelioma is 1-2 years. If patients have surgery, they may have a prognosis of around three years, or more. Depending on the type of the disease and stage, some patients live up to five years following their diagnosis. Early detection usually leads to a longer life expectancy — because the tumors are more likely to be removed with surgery when the cancer has yet to spread far.

In short, there is hope.


Myth No. 12: Mesothelioma Lawsuits Are Expensive for the Patient or Patient’s Family

If mesothelioma lawsuits are expensive for anyone, then it’s the company or companies responsible. The patient is the victim in these cases — and should not need to pay upfront costs or high amounts to receive representation. With the right legal representation, patients won’t need to pay hiring fees or upfront costs.

The top national mesothelioma law firms work on a contingency basis, meaning they only receive a percentage of the payout at the end. If there is no payout, then the firm receives nothing. The patient isn’t responsible for any costs, either. It’s a no-risk situation. Therefore, neither the patient (in personal injury lawsuits) nor the patient’s surviving loved ones (in wrongful death mesothelioma lawsuits) need to dip into savings or take on massive debt to take legal action.


Myth No. 13: Mesothelioma Compensation Requires a Stressful Legal Battle

Not always. Not even most of the time. In fact, most mesothelioma cases settle long before they ever reach trial. This is one of the biggest myths about mesothelioma. In short, the legal process for patients is set up for them to succeed — and quickly.

Have you ever seen movies and television shows that depict lawsuits as lengthy court battles? Yeah, those hardly ever happen for mesothelioma cases.

The companies at fault will likely want to avoid expensive legal battles, which means they’ll try to settle before trial. Settlements help the victim receive compensation immediately — and avoid a lengthy, stressful appeals process.

Another avenue for mesothelioma compensation is asbestos trust funds. Filing an asbestos trust fund claim is even quicker to finish, and less stressful, than filing a lawsuit. These are court-ordered funds that asbestos-involved companies had to create if they filed for bankruptcy. These funds ensure future mesothelioma victims receive compensation to cover lost wages from no longer being able to work, medical costs for treatment and other financial strains.


Myth No. 14: Mesothelioma Patients Must Find Treatment and Legal Help on Their Own

Ah, another dangerous myth about mesothelioma. This one may be the least truthful of the bunch. There are plenty of resources available to mesothelioma patients, so let’s debunk this myth right now. In fact, many people dedicate their lives to helping the victims of asbestos exposure through the medical and legal aspects of their disease.

For instance, we at Mesothelioma Guide have helped thousands of patients find a doctor or cancer center that specializes in treating mesothelioma. We also connect victims to lawyers with decades of experience handling these types of cases.

Our patient advocate, Karen Ritter, knows of all the ongoing clinical trials, top mesothelioma specialists and legal options available to you. Email her at karen@mesotheliomaguide.com and she will help you as she has done for hundreds of others who felt they were alone in fighting this disease.

    Sources & Author

  1. Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma: a review. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5497105/. Accessed: 06/25/19.
  2. Risk Factors for Malignant Mesothelioma. American Cancer Society. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html. Accessed: 06/25/19.
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About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.