8 Mesothelioma Myths and Misconceptions

As a rare disease, mesothelioma is misunderstood by many. Throughout the years, common misconceptions have spread about mesothelioma, challenging diagnosis and awareness. Understanding the facts about mesothelioma can help individuals avoid potential risk factors and recognize any early symptoms to ensure early detection, a broad range of treatment options, and a better life expectancy.

Myth #1: Only Older Men Usually Develop Mesothelioma

Statistics show that more than 75% of mesothelioma deaths consist of men, most of whom are past middle age. This has led people to think that only elderly men can develop the aggressive cancer. However, mesothelioma affects both men and women, and those of all ages.

There are two main reasons why older men have made up the majority of mesothelioma deaths. First, men dominated the industries that exposed workers to asbestos, a known cause of mesothelioma. Mill workers, miners, mechanics, construction workers, and other fields were positions mostly filled by men. Secondly, there is a long latency period for mesothelioma symptoms. Chest pain, cough, fever, and other common symptoms may not emerge for 10 – 50 years, making them non-recognizable until patients reach older ages.

Facts: Who Can Develop Mesothelioma?
  • Both men and women are susceptible to mesothelioma
  • Some forms of the cancer, such as papillary mesothelioma and cystic mesothelioma, are even more common in women than in men
  • Adults, young adults, and children have all been diagnosed with mesothelioma

Myth #2: Mesothelioma Is a Form of Lung Cancer

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the disease, affecting the lining of the lungs. Frequently pleural-based with many overlapping symptoms, mesothelioma is often thought to be a form of lung cancer or to only affect the lungs. However, the two types of cancer are very different and misdiagnosis between the two could lead to a poor treatment plan and hindered prognosis.

Facts: Lung Cancer vs. Mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer develops in the lung tissues, while mesothelioma forms in the lung linings
  • Lung cancer can be caused by many factors, including asbestos, smoking, or air pollution, while mesothelioma is only known to be caused by asbestos
  • Lung cancer is generally easier to treat than mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer has a higher median survival rate than mesothelioma

Myth #3: Mesothelioma Symptoms Are Easy to Recognize

There are many common symptoms of mesothelioma that people can look out for. However, sometimes there are no symptoms until decades after exposure, complicating early diagnosis of the disease. If any mesothelioma symptoms or health abnormalities are recognized, individuals should seek medical attention immediately.

Facts: Can Mesothelioma Symptoms Be Detected Early?
  • Early detection typically allows for more treatment options and a better prognosis
  • Symptoms may not emerge until 10 – 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos
  • Understanding potential risk factors can help with early detection

Myth #4: Mesothelioma Is Contagious

When someone develops a dangerous disease, the first question many ask is whether or not it’s contagious. A mesothelioma diagnosis is scary with aggressive growth patterns and a short life expectancy, drawing even more concern. Mesothelioma is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person. However, there are risk factors that might be genetic, making individuals more susceptible to developing the cancer, and secondary exposure to asbestos should also be taken into consideration.

Facts: Is Mesothelioma Contagious?
  • Mesothelioma itself is not contagious
  • Genetic risk factors, such as mutation of the BAP1 gene, can be hereditary
  • Secondary exposure has put many family members at risk to developing mesothelioma after workplace exposure brought fibers home

Myth #5: Only Long-Term Asbestos Exposure Is Cause for Concern

Exposure to asbestos is known to cause and increase the likelihood of developing many diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. There are a variety of factors that can also make individuals more susceptible to a mesothelioma diagnosis, including overall health, age, and duration of exposure. Those exposed to the carcinogenic material for longer periods of time are more likely to develop mesothelioma. However, any amount of exposure can cause mesothelioma, even in small amounts.

Facts: How Much Asbestos Exposure Is Bad?
  • Asbestos exposure in any amount can cause mesothelioma
  • Secondary asbestos exposure is possible, causing others to develop the disease
  • The more an individual is exposed to asbestos, the more likely they are to develop mesothelioma

Myth #6: Companies Were Unaware That They Were Exposing Employees to Asbestos

Though not as commonly used now, asbestos was a material frequently found in the workplace. Many materials that employees worked with on a daily basis contained the material, leaving them exposed. It’s difficult to believe that companies would knowingly put their employees at risk to develop diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other pleural conditions, but some did.

As more and more cases of mesothelioma have emerged over the years, many laws and regulations have been put into place to limit asbestos exposure, but victims continue to struggle years later. In many cases, victims are eligible to receive compensation for pain, suffering, and mounting bills.

Facts: Did Companies Know They Were Exposing Workers to Asbestos?
  • Some companies knowingly put workers at risk for asbestos hazards
  • Occupational exposure is the leading cause of asbestos exposure
  • Mesothelioma victims may be eligible for compensation from workplace exposure

Myth #7: Any Suspected Asbestos Should Be Removed Immediately

It’s well-known that asbestos is dangerous and that it can cause harm in the workplace, schools, at home or anywhere that individuals may be exposed. This leads many people to think that it’s important to remove asbestos immediately, sometimes with just a face mask as a precaution. However, asbestos removal presents a huge hazard and must be handled by an asbestos removal specialist.

Facts: How Should Asbestos Be Handled?
  • Even if asbestos is only suspected, a specialist should be brought in
  • When asbestos is disturbed, fibers become airborne and are easily inhaled or ingested, potentially causing mesothelioma
  • Asbestos fibers cannot be detected in the air as they don’t cause any scratchy feelings, breathing troubles, or other noticeable effects

Myth #8: Asbestos Is Now Fully Banned

Laws and regulations have been put into place to limit the potential of asbestos exposure. However, asbestos has not yet been fully banned and is still found in homes, workplaces, and public areas. Homes built before 1980 are highly likely to contain asbestos and should be addressed with great care when renovating or addressing any damage. Asbestos is still being found in products frequently used today. With continued awareness of the material and all of the hazards it presents, banning asbestos will hopefully extend across all countries.

Facts: Has Asbestos Been Banned?
  • Attempts to fully ban asbestos have been overturned
  • More than 60 countries have banned asbestos, with more committing to ban
  • Asbestos is still present in older homes, schools, workplaces, and products, such as talcum powder and potting soils
  • Asbestos awareness can help people identify and prevent potential asbestos exposures