Mesothelioma Cancer

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This page was medically reviewed by James Stevenson, M.D. on February 6, 2019. For information on our content creation and review process read our editorial guidelines. If you notice an error or have comments or questions on our content please contact us.

James Stevenson, M.D. Thoracic Medical Oncologist

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Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive form of cancer that develops in the linings of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of malignant mesothelioma. The average life expectancy of mesothelioma patients is 12 – 21 months after diagnosis. Symptoms can include chest pain, shortness of breath and general fatigue. 

Navigate through the sections below and click on a topic for more in-depth information on mesothelioma. An overview is also provided on this page for a general understanding of the disease.

Causes & Symptoms

The main cause of mesothelioma is asbestos, though there are other potential risk factors. Symptoms can emerge 10 – 50 years after exposure and may vary by type and stage.

Types of Mesothelioma

There are four main types of mesothelioma, different based on where they develop. Symptoms, prognosis and treatment options may vary based on the mesothelioma type.

Prognosis & Staging

Mesothelioma prognosis is generally poor, but can be improved with early detection and effective treatment options. Prognosis will vary based on the patient’s individual diagnosis.

Treatment & Doctors

Mesothelioma treatments can improve patient life expectancy and quality of life. Experienced mesothelioma doctors are located around the United States to offer specialized treatment.

What Is Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that develops in the linings of the lungs, abdomen, heart or testes. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure.

Asbestos fibers can easily be ingested or inhaled, then become imbedded in organ linings. The fibers can cause irritation and mutation of the mesothelioma cells, leading to the development of mesothelioma cancer. Research continues to find potential causes and risk factors that may make individuals more susceptible to developing mesothelioma, but asbestos is a proven link to 90% of all cases.

Approximate New Cases Per Year:


Around 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the United States.
Cases Linked to Asbestos:


90% of mesothelioma diagnoses are connected to asbestos exposure.
How Mesothelioma Forms

Types of Mesothelioma

There are four main types of mesothelioma, different based on tumor location. The most common type is malignant pleural mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common, followed by pericardial mesothelioma and testicular mesothelioma, which make up a small percentage of all diagnosed cases.

Pleural mesothelioma

  • Develops in the lining of the lungs.
  • Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of the disease, accounting for 80 – 90% of all diagnoses.

Peritoneal mesothelioma

  • Develops in the lining of the abdomen.
  • It is the second most common form of the disease, accounting for about 15 – 20% of all diagnoses.

Pericardial mesothelioma

  • Develops in the lining of the heart.
  • Pericardial mesothelioma is an extremely rare form of the disease, accounting for only 1 – 2% of all mesothelioma diagnoses.

Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma symptoms can take 10 – 50 years to emerge after initial exposure to asbestos. Early mesothelioma symptoms are often mistaken for less serious ailments, which can further complicate early detection. When patients do recognize symptoms, they should seek medical attention as soon as possible, as early detection is the best way to improve mesothelioma prognosis.

Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma

  • Chest pain or abdominal pain

  • Fatigue

  • Fever and night sweats

  • Fluid buildup

  • Shortness of breath

  • Weight loss

Mesothelioma Diagnosis and Staging

After recognizing symptoms, health care providers will perform a variety of tests and procedures to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. The only way to definitively prove that a patient has mesothelioma is through a biopsy, though other diagnostic tools will help determine location and staging.

Once a mesothelioma diagnosis is confirmed, doctors will classify the disease into one of four stages, based on disease progression. Mesothelioma staging will determine what treatment plan is best for the patient, while also guiding prognosis. Ideally, patients will receive their diagnosis at stage 1 or 2, giving them the most treatment options possible. By stages 3 and 4, treatment options are generally more limited as the cancer has spread.

Stages of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma Prognosis

Staging, tumor location and cell type play a large role in determining a patient’s mesothelioma prognosis. Survival rates decrease as the cancer progresses to the later stages, and certain cancer types tend to be more aggressive.

  • Average Life Expectancy: 12 – 21 months is the current average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients, but can vary based on a variety of factors.

Prognosis will be different for every patient. Other characteristics, such as age, gender and overall health can also impact how the disease will progress. Typically, younger patients are able to withstand more aggressive treatments, as well as those that are in good health.

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Mesothelioma Treatment

Conventional treatments for mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The most common option is a multimodal approach, which combines two or more standard treatment options. Most patients seek treatment from experienced mesothelioma doctors located at cancer centers around the United States.

Mesothelioma specialists continue to look for new ways to utilize multimodal therapy, testing alongside other experimental treatments. Patients not responding to conventional treatments or in the later stages of their diagnosis may be able to try new treatments through clinical trials. Patients may also undergo palliative treatments at any time throughout their treatment journey.

Mesothelioma Legal Help

Mesothelioma treatment costs can grow to be expensive, especially when patients travel to receive care. Mesothelioma patients and their loved ones often seek legal help after receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis as a result of exposure. Many companies knew about the dangers of asbestos, but continued to put employees at risk, leading to a growing number of lawsuits. As a result, companies set up asbestos trust funds to pay out current and future claims of asbestos victims. With help from an experienced mesothelioma lawyer, patients and family members can seek compensation for their pain, suffering and building medical bills.

Select a legal topic below to learn more

Common Questions About Mesothelioma

Is mesothelioma treatable?

Although there is no cure for mesothelioma, there are treatment options available, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

What are the most common symptoms of mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma symptoms vary based on type, but commonly include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain or abdominal pain and buildup of fluid.

What is the main cause of mesothelioma?

The only known cause of malignant mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos.

Is mesothelioma a form of cancer?

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer. There are different types of mesothelioma, including pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.

What type of cancer is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma affects the mesothelium, or thin linings covering organs, such as the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) and abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma).


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