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Is mesothelioma a specific type of lung cancer?

When people think about asbestos exposure, they often think about mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that can develop in the mesothelium, which is the membrane that covers most internal organs.

Although this disease is often caused by asbestos exposure, it is not the only disease this hazardous mineral can cause. Asbestos exposure, especially in combination with cigarette smoking, can increase someone's risk of developing lung cancer.

How is mesothelioma different from lung cancer?

Lung cancer is not the same type of cancer as mesothelioma because lung cancer occurs in the lungs, not the mesothelium. However, both types of cancer can affect the lungs, which can lead to some confusion.

The most common type of mesothelioma is pleura mesothelioma. The pleura is the tissue that specifically surrounds the lungs. Other types of mesothelioma can affect other parts of the body, but lung cancer only affects the lungs.

Mesothelioma and lung cancer also differ in the way they affect healthy cells. Mesothelioma usually does not have a clear separation between healthy and cancerous tissues. In contrast, lung cancer often develops as isolated masses in the lungs, which can make it easier to target with treatment.

It is usually better to identify either illness early

Despite being different types of cancer, pleura mesothelioma and lung cancer can cause some of the same symptoms. Either type of cancer can cause:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss

However, these and other symptoms usually do not develop until the cancer is at an advanced stage. Receiving a proper diagnosis before these symptoms develop may leave more treatment options open, whether someone’s underlying condition is lung cancer or mesothelioma.

If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos, it may be prudent to schedule annual cancer screenings. If you develop cancer, these screenings can help your doctor identify the problem before you experience symptoms.

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