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Asbestosis vs. Mesothelioma: What’s the Difference?

Update Date: Jun 21, 2019 03:21 PM EDT

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lungs and create scar tissue buildup over time.

Eventually, that scar tissue can lead to asbestosis. According to Vogelzang Law, asbestosis is "a condition of the lung in which lungs have accumulated scar tissue and damage after asbestos exposure."

This chronic condition can cause chest pain, difficulty breathing and a persistent cough. The condition is very similar to pulmonary fibrosis, and is often misdiagnosed as such.

Unexplained weight losser, tends to take the spotlight. Asbestosis is another common health issue that may develop due to asbestos exposure, but many people confuse this illness with mesothelioma. What's the difference between the two?

What is Asbestosis?

Asbestosis is not a form of cancer, but it does produce long-term complications and there is no cure.

Asbestosis can also cause clubbing of the fingers and nails. The condition is often an indication of an underlying heart or lung issue, and is the result of a lack of oxygen in the body.

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare form of aggressive cancer that develops as a result of asbestos exposure. It typically develops in the protective lining of the lungs, but it can also form in the chest, heart, testicles or abdomen.

Each year, up to 3,000 people are diagnosed with the disease. It takes decades to develop mesothelioma, and it's a disease that's most common among construction workers insulators, mechanics, pipefitters and military veterans.

Mesothelioma can cause:

  • Painful coughing
  • Chest pain under the rib cage
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unusual lumps of tissue under the skin

There is currently no cure for mesothelioma, but common cancer treatments may be used to improve the quality of life. Certain treatment combinations, in some cases, can extend life.

If detected early enough, treatment options may be able to remove all cancer and tumors from the body. However, due to the long latency period of the disease, this is very rare.

Differences in Symptoms, Diagnosis and Prognosis

Mesothelioma and asbestosis produce similar symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent cough

Mesothelioma patients will experience more severe symptoms as the disease progresses.

Both conditions are typically diagnosed in the same way: through imaging tests. The first step is almost always a CT scan or an X-ray. If mesothelioma is suspected, blood tests and biopsies may be ordered. Doctors may also order a biopsy if a patient is diagnosed with asbestosis just to make sure that it's not mesothelioma.

The prognosis for mesothelioma is very poor. Patients are generally given a prognosis of 4-12 months across the board. Asbestosis patients, on the other hand, have a much better outcome. Asbestosis affects patients in different ways. Many live for decades with the disease.

The primary issue with asbestosis is a decrease in quality of life as the disease progresses. While patients often live for decades with the condition, it can still be deadly. An estimated 3,211 people in the U.S. died from the disease between 1999 and 2004, according to the American Lung Association.

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