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What is the difference between asbestosis and mesothelioma?

If you know you have past asbestos exposure, you may be concerned about your risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. Asbestosis and mesothelioma are two of the most well-known illnesses that can be caused by asbestos. However, people often confuse them or mistakenly believe they are variations of the same disease.

These two diseases do have several common traits. For example, both have some of the same symptoms, are caused when someone inhales asbestos fibers and develop many years after the initial asbestos exposure. However, there are several differences, too.


Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition that can cause shortness of breath, a dry cough, loss of appetite, weight loss, clubbing of fingertips and toes, and chest pain. It occurs when asbestos fibers get stuck in the alveoli. These are small sacs in the lungs that exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide in the blood.

Asbestos fibers lodged in the alveoli can cause scarring, which stiffens the lungs, making it more difficult to breathe. Asbestosis may eventually lead to heart or lung failure. Doctors cannot reverse damage caused by the disease, but they often can slow the progression of it.


Mesothelioma is an aggressive type of cancer that occurs in the mesothelium. This is the tissue that covers most internal organs. The areas usually affected include the tissue surrounding the lungs, abdomen, heart or testicles. When mesothelioma occurs in the tissue surrounding the lungs, it can result in symptoms such as chest pain, a painful cough, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss and unusual lumps.

Cancer occurs when mutations occur within a cell’s DNA allowing the cell to multiply more than it should. In the case of mesothelioma, researchers do not yet know what initially triggers these mutations. However, they have observed connections between inhaling or ingesting asbestos and eventually developing mesothelioma.

Because mesothelioma is an especially aggressive disease, it can be important to identify it as soon as possible. An early diagnosis can mean more treatment options may be available.

Although asbestosis and mesothelioma have several commonalities, they are two distinct diseases. If you worry about your risk of developing an asbestos-related illness, it may be worth sharing your concerns with your doctor. Regular screening may help alert your doctor to any abnormalities that may develop, and proper testing can help them determine the correct diagnosis as soon as possible.

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