Mesothelioma Cancer

Expert Fact Checked

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.

Man clutching chest

01. Symptoms & Causes

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma symptoms can take 10 – 50 years to emerge after initial exposure to asbestos. Symptoms are often mistaken for less serious illnesses, which can complicate early diagnosis. When symptoms present, patients should seek medical attention, as early detection may improve mesothelioma prognosis.

Man clutching chest

Common Symptoms of Mesothelioma

  • Chest pain or abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid buildup
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Weight loss

Mesothelioma Types and Locations

Causes of Mesothelioma

Asbestos is the only definitive cause of mesothelioma. When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they may become embedded in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Over time, the fibers cause inflammation and scarring. This irritation can eventually lead to the development of mesothelioma tumors.

Mesothelioma Types and Locations

Who Is at Risk of Developing Mesothelioma?

Any amount of asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma. However, certain occupations may experience higher rates of exposure. Loved ones of these workers also face a higher risk because of secondhand exposure.

At-Risk Occupations

Workers may be exposed to asbestos on the job. High-risk occupations include shipyard workers, machinists and mechanics.

Secondhand Exposure

Asbestos may be brought home on workers’ hair, skin and clothing, exposing loved ones to the fibers.


Asbestos was widely used throughout the military exposing Navy, Army and Air Force veterans, among others.

02. Types

Types of Mesothelioma

There are four main types of mesothelioma based on tumor location. The most common type is malignant pleural mesothelioma. The mesothelioma tumors are made up of different cell types. The three most common mesothelioma cell types include epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic. Symptoms, prognosis and treatment options vary depending on mesothelioma type and cell type.

Pleural Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma Pleural Lung Diagram

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

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Diagram

  • 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.
More About Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Pericardial Mesothelioma

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.
More About Pericardial Mesothelioma

Resources for Mesothelioma Patients

We offer assistance to those navigating mesothelioma treatment decisions and medical-related financial difficulties. Click the links below to get connected with a top mesothelioma doctor, speak with a mesothelioma survivor and learn more about available financial assistance.

Doctor and Patient

03. Diagnosis

Diagnosing Mesothelioma

After recognizing symptoms, doctors will perform a variety of tests and procedures to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. Biopsies are the only way to definitively diagnose mesothelioma Other diagnostic tools may help determine location and staging. Once a mesothelioma diagnosis is confirmed, doctors will classify the disease into one of four stages. Mesothelioma staging will help determine prognosis and treatment options.

Doctor and Patient

Mesothelioma Stages

At stage 1 or 2, patients have the most treatment options. By stages 3 and 4, treatment options are generally more limited, as the cancer has spread.

Mesothelioma Stages 1-4

Stage 1

  • Cancer is localized.
  • Aggressive treatment options are still viable, including surgery.
  • Average life expectancy is around 21 months.
Stage 2

  • Cancer has spread to nearby organs and lymph nodes.
  • Aggressive treatment options remain viable.
  • Average life expectancy is around 19 months.
Stage 3

  • Cancer continues to spread to nearby organs and tissue.
  • Treatment options become limited.
  • Average life expectancy is around 16 months.
Stage 4

  • Cancer has spread nearby and distantly.
  • Palliative care may ease symptoms.
  • Average life expectancy is around 12 months.
04. Prognosis

Mesothelioma Prognosis

Staging, tumor location and cell type help determine a patient’s mesothelioma prognosis. Due to these and other factors, prognosis will vary depending on the individual. When discussing a patient’s prognosis, mesothelioma doctors may also mention life expectancy and survival rates as related terms. Average life expectancy is 18 – 31 months.

Heather Von St. James and daughter

Mesothelioma Survivors

Some patients are able to outlive their prognosis by months or years. Heather Von St. James was given 15 months to live at the time of diagnosis. Today, she is a survivor of more than 16 years.

Hear Stories from Mesothelioma Survivors

Heather Von St. James and daughter

05. Treatment

Mesothelioma Treatment

Standard 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. Combining treatments has been shown to increase patient survival times. Mesothelioma doctors also continue to research new treatments through clinical trials.

Mesothelioma surgery icon

Aggressive surgeries are often used for early-stage cancer. In the later stages, surgery may be used palliatively.

Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma Icon

For mesothelioma patients, the standard first-line chemotherapy treatment is cisplatin or carboplatin with pemetrexed.

Mesothelioma Radiation Icon

There are two types of radiation for mesothelioma: external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) and intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT).

New Mesothelioma Therapies Icon
New Therapies

New therapies are being tested through clinical trials. Experimental therapies for mesothelioma include immunotherapy and gene therapy.


Many doctors do not have experience treating mesothelioma because of its rarity. Patients should seek care from a doctor who specializes in mesothelioma. With specialized care, doctors can develop personalized treatment plans for patients that may extend survival.

06. Support

Support Throughout the
Mesothelioma Journey

Finding community with other patients, survivors and people who understand the intricacies of a rare cancer like mesothelioma may ease the heavy burden. There are numerous ways to get involved within the mesothelioma community to show support. Below are ways to engage with others who understand mesothelioma diagnosis, treatment and survivorship.

Common Questions About Mesothelioma

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