Frequently Asked Questions About Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a complex and rare disease. Read the most frequently asked questions by families and patients about mesothelioma.

About Mesothelioma

Q: What is mesothelioma, and how is it caused?

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that most often affects the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) or abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma). This is caused by inhaling or ingesting toxic airborne asbestos fibers.

Q: How rare is mesothelioma? / Is it a common cancer?

Mesothelioma is a very rare cancer with only 3,000 cases diagnosed every year. In order for a disease to be classified as a “rare” disease, there have to be less than 200,000 cases a year. You can learn more about this rare disease in our free Mesothelioma Guide.


Q: What are the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma?

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms are chest pain, shortness of breath, and a constant cough. Fluid may also build up in the chest, which is known as a pleural effusion.

Q: What are the symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma?

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms are stomach pain, weight loss and fluid buildup called ascites.

Q: What are the symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma?

Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma are similar to those of other heart ailments and include chest pain and heart murmurs.

Q: What is the “latency period?”

The latency period refers to how long a disease takes to develop. Mesothelioma has a long latency period of 20 to 50 years before symptoms develop.


Q: Who is most at risk to get mesothelioma occupationally?

There are a lot of occupations at risk of developing mesothelioma. The most common occupations at risk are construction and manufacturing trades. Occupational exposure to asbestos is the most common cause of mesothelioma.

Q: Who is most at risk of getting mesothelioma by gender?

Over 80% of all mesothelioma patients are men.

Q: Who is most at risk to get mesothelioma by ethnicity?

Caucasian men make up 95% of all mesothelioma cases.

Q: Who is most at risk to get mesothelioma by age?

The majority of mesothelioma patients are 65 years or older, because it takes 20 to 50 years for the disease to develop.

Q: Can people not directly exposed to asbestos get mesothelioma?

Secondary exposure is when a person is exposed to asbestos by a person carrying dust or fibers on their clothes, hair, or skin. The fibers may be inhaled by someone such as a spouse or family member, which may result in mesothelioma over time.

Q: Why do veterans make up such a significant number of cases?

Over 300 asbestos-based products were frequently used in everything from military vehicle brake pads to boiler rooms and insulation in battleships. There were 5 million veterans exposed to asbestos between 1930 and 1980, and veterans account for over 30% of all mesothelioma cases.

Q: I am afraid I was exposed to asbestos (as a veteran, child, etc.) and think I may have mesothelioma. How do I get tested?

We can connect you with a specialist in your area who can properly test you for mesothelioma. This can include blood tests, X-rays, or a biopsy. If you think you may have mesothelioma, you should also learn more about the symptoms of the disease.

Cell Types

Q: How many types of common mesothelioma cells are there?

There are 2 types of mesothelioma cells, epithelioid and sarcomatoid. Some people may have a combination of these cells, known as biphasic mesothelioma. Each cell type has different treatment options available.

Q: Which cell types are the least deadly?

Epithelioid mesothelioma cells are the least aggressive and the most treatable.


Q: How is mesothelioma diagnosed?

Doctors may start with a biomarker test which checks a patient’s blood for certain common signs that the cancer is present. Another key tool in diagnosis is imaging technology (X-Ray, PET, CAT, MRI), which can help determine the presence of any cell growth. Doctors may also take a needle or surgical biopsy which removes cells and tissue for review and provides the most conclusive diagnosis of mesothelioma.

Q: Do doctors ever misdiagnose mesothelioma?
Since mesothelioma only affects 1 in every 67,000 people, many doctors are not properly able to diagnose it. Some doctors have improperly diagnosed pleural mesothelioma as lung cancer and peritoneal mesothelioma as ovarian cancer. It’s important to see a mesothelioma specialist to ensure a proper diagnosis. We can connect you to a specialist with our free Doctor Match program.


Q: How many stages of mesothelioma are there? 

Mesothelioma has 4 stages, each marking increased seriousness and severity.

Q: Which stage is the most serious?

Stage 4 mesothelioma is the most progressed and dangerous diagnosis.

Q: How do doctors determine which stage a patient is in?

Stages are determined according the location of the cancer and by how much it has spread to the rest of the body. The farther the cancer spreads, the more advanced the staging.


Q: What is asbestos

Asbestos is what causes mesothelioma. It is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that is mined from rock. Before and after it was known to be toxic, it was used in many common products.

Q: Where is asbestos found?

Asbestos is found in the Rocky Mountains, the Eastern and Central US, and was also recently discovered in southern Nevada.

Q: Are there different types of asbestos? 

There are two primary types of asbestos. Serpentine is more flexible, rounded, and less likely to cause mesothelioma due to its curly shape. Amphibole fibers are the most dangerous as they sharp and stick into the mesothelial lining, causing the most internal irritation.

Q: Is asbestos still used in North America?

While the European Union (EU) has banned the use of all asbestos products, the United States only has a partial ban. Asbestos is still used in products where it is unlikely that the fibers will become airborne.

Q: Where is asbestos used?

For many years, asbestos was considered to be a wonder material. It was found in roofing, boiler rooms, auto parts, cement, insulation, military vehicles, and more. It was used because of its flame retardant and insulating properties prior to people knowing of its danger.

Q: What should I do if I find asbestos in my home?

Individuals with older homes may find asbestos in their home. Don’t touch or disturb it. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided a list of asbestos removing companies. Learn more about that here:

Q: Are some people more susceptible to asbestos than others?

Asbestos doesn’t discriminate, though men are more likely to develop mesothelioma. This is because men are typically more involved in the most at-risk jobs for exposure such as construction, military, roofing, or auto care.