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Mesothelioma: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

an elderly man with a cough

Mesothelioma is a rare, yet dangerous, form of lung cancer. Mesothelioma differs from traditional lung cancer in that lung cancer affects the inside of the lungs while mesothelioma affects the outside.

Mesothelioma is particularly dangerous because it has a long latency period. This means that the symptoms of mesothelioma may not present until decades later. At this point, the disease is more advanced and difficult to treat.

Therefore, it’s important for you to stay informed on this disease, including its earliest warning signs, so that you can safeguard your health.

What Causes Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to the toxic substance asbestos. Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral that was valued for its heat-resistant properties and, as such, was widely used in fire-resistant and insulating materials.

The dangers and toxicity of asbestos were not understood until the early 20th century. Yet, many industries continued to use the substance until it was regulated under the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Therefore, many individuals who worked with asbestos before the 1970s are at risk of developing mesothelioma today due to its long latency period.

Just because asbestos has been strictly regulated does not mean that the toxic substance does not still exist in parts of the country. Some older buildings may still contain asbestos. Therefore, certain individuals were (and remain) at an increased risk of asbestos exposure, including:

  • Construction workers
  • Firefighters
  • Industrial workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Veterans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces before or during the 1970s

Types of Mesothelioma

There are four main types of mesothelioma, and some are more common than others. These include:

  • Pericardial mesothelioma (affects the heart)
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma (affects the lungs)
  • Pleural mesothelioma (affects the abdominal area)

What Are the Warning Signs of Mesothelioma?

Since mesothelioma has a long latency period, those who were exposed to asbestos decades ago may not exhibit symptoms of the disease until today. These symptoms may include the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Night sweats
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Another factor that makes mesothelioma so dangerous is that many people mistake the aforementioned symptoms for the common cold, leading to a delayed diagnosis. If you experience any of these symptoms, and you know that you may have been exposed to asbestos in the past, it’s important for you to schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Can Mesothelioma Be Cured?

In regard to the survivability of cancer, medical professionals often use a term called the “relative survival rate.” This refers to a cancer patient’s percent chance of living a certain number of years after their diagnosis compared to a healthy person from the general population.

So, for example, if a certain cancer has a 5-year relative survival rate of 25%, that means someone with that type of cancer has a 25% chance of living five years after their diagnosis when compared to someone from the general population.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rates for mesothelioma are as follows:

  • Localized (the cancer is limited to the pleura): 20%
  • Regional (the cancer has spread to nearby structures): 12%
  • Distant (the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body): 8%

It’s important to remember that these numbers are not set in stone. Many different factors, including a patient’s age, stage of cancer, and overall health greatly affect their prognosis.

Additionally, these factors also affect the type of treatment the patient may receive.

How to Treat Mesothelioma

The three main ways to treat mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.


Surgery may be recommended for patients who have early-stage, localized mesothelioma. This means the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body and may be able to be removed through an operation.

However, this is a rare form of treatment because, in most cases, mesothelioma is not diagnosed until it’s already in the later stages of the disease and has spread to the lymph nodes.

On the other hand, surgery may also be recommended for patients as a way to alleviate some of their pain and other symptoms.


Chemotherapy injects powerful chemicals intravenously to kill fast-growing cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy can be an aggressive and harsh form of treatment. As such, it may not be suitable for everyone, such as those in poor overall health.


Radiation is a less aggressive form of treatment that uses beams of intense X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation may be recommended for patients who cannot withstand surgery or chemotherapy.

Pain Management and Palliaitive Care

Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can have harsh side effects, particularly for a mesothelioma patient in the later stages of the disease, As such, some mesothelioma patients choose to manage their pain and focus on their quality of life, family, and more personal concerns.

Did You Develop Mesothelioma After Asbestos Exposure? We’re Here to Help

If you developed mesothelioma after asbestos exposure, our Pittsburgh personal injury attorneys can help you identify any and all liable parties and recover the compensation you need for medical bills, lost wages, and family support. We have represented friends and neighbors in Pennsylvania for nearly 40 years and we want to help you through this.

Contact Robert Peirce & Associates, P.C. at (844) 383-0565 to schedule a free consultation.

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