Written by Jenna Campagna, RN


Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that develops in the protective lining around the lungs, abdomen and heart. It is caused by exposure to asbestos and has a prognosis of 1-2 years.


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Types of Mesothelioma

Types of Mesothelioma

Doctors determine the type of mesothelioma based upon where the tumors develop in the body. Pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma, the two most common types, comprise almost all of the cases.

Pleural Mesothelioma
Pleural Mesothelioma
  • Cancer of the pleura, which is the mesothelium surrounding the lungs
  • General prognosis between 8 and 19 months
  • Around 80% of patients are males
  • The average age at diagnosis is 72, and a large majority of patients are age 60 and older
Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Peritoneal Mesothelioma
  • Cancer of the peritoneum, which is the mesothelium surrounding the abdomen
  • Survival averages of 3-5 years with treatment
  • Approximately 55% of patients are males
  • Average age at diagnosis is 57, and few patients are younger than 50

Jenna Campagna, RN explains how she assists patients.

Jenna Campagna is a registered nurse and a mesothelioma patient advocate. She helps patients discuss their treatment options, offers ways to receive novel treatments that may still be in clinical trials and finds doctors who are open to multimodal surgical options.

Hope for patients

This cancer is aggressive, but there is hope for patients. Treatment from a qualified specialist has helped patients live well past average life expectancies.

Whether you’re a mesothelioma patient or the loved one of a patient, we commend you for trying to educate yourself about this disease. Doing so will help you find the best treatment options, doctors and resources for your own diagnosis or that of your loved one.


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What Are the Causes and Risk Factors?

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors?

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Asbestos exposure causes malignant mesothelioma. When inhaled or ingested, sharp asbestos fibers can enter the pleura or peritoneum and irritate mesothelial cells, which then mutate and become cancerous.

Mesothelioma usually develops between 20 and 50 years after asbestos exposure occurs, which is why almost all patients are seniors. According to one study published on UpToDate, the vast majority of patients are age 60 or older and developed the disease decades after exposure to asbestos.

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Risk Factors

Occupational Exposure:

Since asbestos was widely used in industrial and commercial products, the majority of mesothelioma patients were exposed to this toxic substance in the workplace.

Veterans Exposure:

Asbestos was extensively used in every branch of the military due to its insulating and fire-retardant properties. Veterans who worked as boilermen, pipefitters, mechanics and welders had the highest risk of exposure.

Secondary Exposure:

Family members can inhale asbestos fibers and dust that a loved one carries into the home on work clothes. This is referred to as "secondary" or "take-home" exposure and is frequently associated with how women develop peritoneal mesothelioma.

The most common occupations, locations and products associated with asbestos include:

  • Construction, insulation or electrical work
  • Railroad and factory work, military service and automobile repair
  • Military ships, barracks and aircraft
  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Cement board/wall and ceiling tiles
  • Pipes
  • Electrical wiring, switchboards and panels
  • Joint compounds
  • Textiles and protective clothing (for heat resistance)
  • Automobile brake pads/clutches
  • Talcum-based cosmetic items (such as baby powder or makeup)
  • Household appliances (such as oven mitts, toasters or hairdryers)
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Find out where you may have been exposed to asbestos

A nationwide list of sites where you or a loved one may have come in contact with asbestos.


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Veterans With Mesothelioma

Veterans With Mesothelioma

At least 33% of mesothelioma patients are veterans, making them the largest group of people with this cancer. The prevalence of asbestos in the United States military put servicemembers at risk regularly and is the primary reason why so many veterans develop mesothelioma.

Veterans with mesothelioma have numerous treatment options, most notably through one of many Veterans Affairs hospitals in the country. Some of these institutions have mesothelioma programs led by experienced and renowned specialists who understand the disease and know how to help patients.

Select Your Branch for Specific Information


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What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Early symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to those of more common diseases such as pneumonia, the flu or irritable bowel syndrome. Due to how long mesothelioma takes to develop, symptoms often don’t appear until tumors have progressed. Symptoms vary based on the type of mesothelioma.


Symptoms include:


Fluid buildup

(up to 95% of patients experience this symptom)


Chest pain

(up to 56% of patients)


Shortness of breath

(up to 42% of patients)

Other common symptoms:

Dry cough, weight loss, difficulty swallowing, general fatigue


Symptoms include:


Abdominal swelling caused by fluid buildup

(up to 80% of patients experience this symptom)


Abdominal pain

(up to 58% of patients)

Other common symptoms:

Weight loss, loss of appetite, bowel irregularity, general fatigue, seizures

Diagnosing Mesothelioma

Many patients are diagnosed with mesothelioma after exhibiting a persistent cough, pneumonia-like symptoms or fluid buildup. Because this type of cancer can take decades to develop, its symptoms often appear without warning.

When a patient exhibits persistent symptoms, a doctor will suggest a series of tests. These tests determine the type and stage of the cancer.

Diagnostic testing includes:

  • X-ray
  • CT scan, which shows visual evidence of pleural thickening and effusion
  • Cytology (fluid biopsy)
  • Tissue biopsy
  • PET scan

Diagnostic Testing Facts

According to one study, a fluid biopsy yielded a diagnosis in only 26% of mesothelioma cases. Tissue biopsies are far more often used during the diagnostic process due to better accuracy. In the same study, video-assisted tissue biopsies accurately diagnosed 98% of cases where this method was used.

Cell Types

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Mesothelioma Cell Types

Mesothelioma Cell Types

Mesothelioma cancer can be made up of three different cell variations, each with their own effects on a patient’s prognosis:

Epithelioid Cells

50-70% of cases

  • Longest life expectancy and most responsive to treatment
  • Pleural epithelioid mesothelioma has an average prognosis of 19 months
  • Peritoneal epithelioid mesothelioma has an average prognosis of 55 months

Sarcomatoid Cells

10-20% of cases

  • Shortest life expectancy of three types, least responsive to treatment and metastasizes fastest
  • Pleural sarcomatoid mesothelioma has an average prognosis of 8 months
  • Peritoneal sarcomatoid mesothelioma has an average prognosis of 13 months

Biphasic Cells

Around 30% of cases

  • A mixture of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells
  • Prognosis depends on which cell type is more prevalent
  • Both pleural and peritoneal biphasic mesothelioma have an average prognosis of 13 months


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Mesothelioma Prognosis

Mesothelioma Prognosis

A patient’s prognosis is often based on stage, cell type and their overall health. However, many patients have lived for multiple years due to evolving treatment, improved surgical techniques and the experience of mesothelioma specialists.

There are many ways you can beat your prognosis. Additionally, if you’re a spouse, child or grandchild, or a patient, researching all the new and emerging methods and finding a doctor is vital to your loved one’s survival.

Steps to Improve Your Prognosis


Find a Mesothelioma Specialist

Seeing a specialist is the most important way to improve your or your loved one’s prognosis. Surgeons and oncologists who specialize in treating mesothelioma are vital components of your treatment plan.


Explore Treatment Options

As a patient or loved one to a patient, you should explore all available treatment options. This includes methods such as immunotherapy, clinical trials and multimodal treatment regimens that involve a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.


Live a Healthy Lifestyle

A nutrient-rich diet and active lifestyle play a significant role in how you or your loved one feels before, during and after mesothelioma treatment.


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The 4 Stages of Mesothelioma

The 4 Stages of Mesothelioma

Staging determines a cancer’s severity and also indicates the available treatment options. Based on the stage of a patient's disease, specialists can prescribe treatments to remove the cancer or focus on limiting patient discomfort. Below are visual representations of mesothelioma staging and the average life expectancy for each stage of pleural mesothelioma specifically.


Stage 1

Life expectancy:
20 months

  • Cancer is localized to the point of origin.
  • There is no lymph node involvement.
  • Surgery is the most common form of treatment.

Stage 2

Life expectancy:
19 months

  • The cancer is no longer confined to the point of origin.
  • Lymph node involvement begins.
  • Patients at this stage have many treatment options, including aggressive surgery.

Stage 3

Life expectancy:
16 months

  • The cancer has spread beyond the point of origin.
  • Multiple lymph nodes are affected.
  • Surgery remains an option.

Stage 4

Life expectancy:
11 months

  • The cancer has spread to other organs and lymph nodes.
  • Patients may experience more severe symptoms.
  • Palliative treatment and surgical options are offered.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Staging

Specialists use a separate staging system for peritoneal mesothelioma — one which scores the extent of the disease within the abdomen. This staging system is called the Peritoneal Cancer Index (PCI). We have simplified that scoring system so that patients can correspond it with the more well-known four-stage model:

PCI OF 1-10


Five-year survival rate of 87%

PCI OF 11-20


Five-year survival rate of 53%

PCI OF 21-30


Five-year survival rate of 50%

PCI OF 31-39


Five-year survival rate of 29%


“Even though mesothelioma is not curable, it’s treatable and mesothelioma is not a death sentence. Anybody who has mesothelioma: Jump on it with both feet. Get on the road to wellness. If it’s concentrated in one area, have it taken out. You’ll live longer.”

- Gary M., a pleural mesothelioma survivor who was diagnosed in 2014


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Your Cancer Treatment Options

Your Cancer Treatment Options

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to mesothelioma treatment. Specialists choose from a variety of cancer treatment options depending on the location of the disease, the cell type and the patient’s personal medical history. For the best treatment for yourself or your loved one, find a cancer center with experience in mesothelioma treatment and research.



Surgery is the only treatment option known to significantly extend life. Almost every mesothelioma patient who has lived more than five years has had surgery.



The first-line chemotherapy drugs approved by the FDA to treat mesothelioma are Alimta and Cisplatin, which are often used together and in conjunction with surgery as a multimodal approach to improve a patient’s prognosis.



Radiation treatment is used to slow the growth and progression of mesothelioma in conjunction with other methods like surgery and chemotherapy. It is also used to reduce pain caused by tumor growth.



Specialists will use a combination of different treatment methods to improve a patient’s prognosis. Radiation and chemotherapy are often used before, during or after surgery to help reduce the chance of a recurrence and improve a patient’s overall survival.


Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are an additional option to consider for patients who have exhausted other treatments. Immunotherapy drugs are currently being offered in clinical trials.


Alternative Treatment

Some survivors credit alternative health options as instrumental in their recovery and reduction of side effects. Examples include yoga, meditation and acupuncture.

Selecting a Top Doctor Is Critical

Selecting a mesothelioma specialist is one of the most important decisions for a patient and their loved ones. General oncologists do not have much experience in treating mesothelioma because only 3,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year.

Many of the top cancer centers in the United States have mesothelioma specialists. By connecting with these facilities, patients can select a doctor with experience treating their specific type of mesothelioma and receive comprehensive care from a world-class treatment team. Not every specialist is the right fit, and the top cancer centers have options for patients.

The best cancer centers can:

  • Provide patients with experienced mesothelioma specialists
  • Deliver extensive, individualized care for each patient
  • Improve prognosis


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Compensation and Benefits

Compensation and Benefits


Can I File a Lawsuit?

Yes. Mesothelioma patients or their family members can sue the asbestos manufacturing companies that are responsible for their exposures as long as the time limit to file has not expired.


What Are Asbestos Trust Funds?

Once a connection was proven between asbestos exposure and cancer, people began suing the companies that exposed them. After a flood of lawsuits, some companies filed for bankruptcy. These companies were forced by bankruptcy judges to set aside funds for future asbestos victims.


How Do I Find a Mesothelioma Lawyer?

Mesothelioma lawsuits are complex and time-sensitive. It’s important to hire an experienced lawyer who specializes in asbestos litigation. They can guide you through the case process.

Veterans Compensation and Benefits

Are You a Veteran? Get VA Claims Help

Most veterans with mesothelioma are eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Two financial benefits available to veterans are: Disability Compensation, which is for veterans primarily exposed in the military; and Pension, which is for non-service-related mesothelioma cases. Family members and dependents can also receive financial assistance.

Mesothelioma Guide has a retired Navy veteran on staff who has decades of experience managing VA claims. LCDR Carl Jewett spent 24 years in the military and dedicates his professional career to helping veterans with mesothelioma. He can guide you or your loved one through the VA claims process and shorten the amount of time it takes to receive your benefits.


“In my mail today I received a letter from the VA with their decision about my DIC claim. I looked at the balance in my bank account and found that I have already received the payment for the first four months of back pay, plus the regular August 1 payment for July. I am blown away by this and cannot thank you enough, Carl, for all your help in filing this claim. Thank you.

- Trudy T.

Last Edited: September 10, 2020.

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