Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that develops on the protective lining around the lungs, abdomen, and heart. It is caused by exposure to asbestos and can take between 20 and 50 years to develop.

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Types of Mesothelioma

Doctors determine the type of mesothelioma based upon where the tumor develops in the body.

Where Does Mesothelioma Develop?

Pleural Mesothelioma
Pleural Mesothelioma
  • Cancer of the mesothelium covering the lungs and chest
  • Caused by inhaling asbestos fibers
  • Accounts for between 80 and 85 percent of all diagnoses
Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Peritoneal Mesothelioma
  • Cancer of the mesothelium surrounding the abdomen
  • Caused by inhaling asbestos fibers
  • Accounts for between 10 and 15 percent of all diagnoses
Pericardial Mesothelioma
Pericardial Mesothelioma
  • Cancer of the mesothelium covering the heart
  • Not usually diagnosed while the patient is still alive
  • Accounts for around 1 percent of all diagnoses

Testicular mesothelioma is extremely rare and occurs in less than 1 percent of cases.



Men comprise 81 percent of pleural mesothelioma cases and 56 percent of peritoneal cases.



What Are the Causes and Risk Factors?


Asbestos exposure causes malignant mesothelioma. When inhaled or ingested, sharp asbestos fibers cause mesothelial cells to mutate and become cancerous. Mesothelioma usually develops between 20 and 50 years after asbestos exposure occurs.

The most common products that contain asbestos include:

  • Cement board/wall and ceiling tiles
  • Pipe insulation
  • Joint compounds
  • Textiles and protective clothing (for heat resistance)
  • Car brake pads/clutches
  • Cosmetic items

Risk Factors

Occupational Exposure:

Since asbestos was widely used in industrial and commercial products, a large number of individuals have been 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.



What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

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


Symptoms include:


Fluid buildup


Shortness of breath


Chest pain

Other common symptoms:

Dry cough, weight loss, difficulty swallowing, general fatigue


Symptoms include:


Abdominal fluid buildup


Weight loss


Loss of appetite

Other common symptoms:

Abdominal pain, bowel irregularity, general fatigue, seizures


Symptoms include:


Irregular heartbeat


Shortness of breath


Chest pain


General fatigue


Weight loss


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
  • Cytology (fluid biopsy)
  • Tissue biopsy
  • PET scan



Average Age at Diagnosis

Pleural: 72

Peritoneal: 57

Cell Types

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 common of the three types
  • Clearly defined regions of growth, cells clump together
  • Most responsive to treatment options

Sarcomatoid Cells

10-20% of cases

  • Less common than epithelioid and shortest life expectancy of three types
  • Elongated structure, cells sometimes have multiple nuclei
  • Metastasize faster than other cell types

Biphasic Cells

20-30% of cases

  • Also called "mixed mesothelioma"
  • A mixture of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells
  • Prognosis depends of which cell type is more prevalent



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.

Specialists use a separate staging system for peritoneal mesothelioma — one which scores the extent of the disease within the abdomen.

Diagram of Stage 1 Mesothelioma Cancer

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
Diagram of Stage 2 Mesothelioma Cancer

Stage 2

Life expectancy:
19 months

  • 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
Diagram of Stage 3 Mesothelioma Cancer

Stage 3

Life expectancy:
16 months

  • Cancer is spread beyond the point of origin
  • Multiple lymph nodes are affected
  • Surgery remains an option
Diagram of Stage 4 Mesothelioma Cancer

Stage 4

Life expectancy:
11 months

  • Cancer has spread to other organs and lymph nodes
  • Patients may experience more severe symptoms
  • Palliative treatment and surgical (for peritoneal) options are offered



About 40 percent of pleural mesothelioma patients and approximately 50 percent of peritoneal patients survive for at least one year after receiving their diagnosis. A patient’s prognosis is often based on stage, cell type and their overall health. Women and younger patients have a better life expectancy than older men.

There are several steps patients can take to improve their prognosis.

Steps to Improve Your Prognosis


Find a Mesothelioma Specialist

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


Explore Treatment Options

Patients 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 patients feel before, during and after treatment.



Selecting a Top Doctor Is Critical

Selecting a mesothelioma specialist is one of the most important decisions for a patient. 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 who has experience treating their specific type of mesothelioma. 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

What Others Are Saying About Us

"My wife and I so appreciate how Jenna was able to make us not feel lost and alone. She thoroughly understood our situation, verified that we were taking the right steps, explained other steps to take, provided recommendations for specialists, and explained many services that the Mesothelioma Guide can provide. She helped put our minds at ease." - Mike W.



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, 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 Trial

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.

Questions About Your Treatment Plan?
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.



Compensation and Benefits

Financial Assistance for Mesothelioma Patients and Their Families

Many people struggle to understand the complexities of the legal process, especially for cases involving personal injury or wrongful death. We can help answer some of the most common questions mesothelioma patients and their families have regarding compensation.

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 for veterans primarily exposed in the military, while pension is for non-service-related mesothelioma cases. Family members and dependents can also receive financial assistance.

In addition, the VA has contracted with two world-renowned thoracic surgeons who provide specialized mesothelioma treatment to any veteran enrolled in the VA health care system.

Select Your Branch for Specific Information

What Others Are Saying About Us

"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.

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