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Mesothelioma & Asbestosis: Defining Difference & Relationship

  • Published: 2009-01-09 (Revised/Updated 2015-12-27) : Trevor Taylor.
  • Synopsis: Explains the difference between Mesothelioma and Asbestosis which are cancers of the lung.

Main Document

Quote: "Whilst treatment for asbestosis centers around preventing the condition from deteriorating and easing the symptoms, treatment for mesothelioma will depend on how far the cancer has developed."

In order to fully understand the relationship between asbestosis and mesothelioma, and clearly distinguish between these diseases, we must first learn about the cause, then set about defining each condition in a clear, yet non-technical manner.

What is Asbestos

The name Asbestos was first given to this toxic mineral by the Ancient Greeks, and the word "Asbestos" literally means inextinguishable. Throughout much of the twentieth century asbestos was widely used in industry because of it's resistance to heat and flame, resistance to electricity and excellent insulation and sound proofing qualities. It is estimated that there are approximately 3,000 different commercial products which include the use of asbestos in the manufacture process.

Asbestos is made up of tiny microscopic fibers which are invisible to the naked eye, and these fibers will often become airborne when the material is damaged or disturbed. Once carried by air, the fibers may be inhaled into the lungs or even swallowed into he digestive system where they will almost certainly cause long term, significant health problems. Inhaled asbestos fibers will remain in the body and never be expelled, and because of this, the fibers penetrate body tissues and will often deposit themselves in airways and lung tissue.

There are six minerals which are defined as "asbestos" types. These are;

The three most commonly used asbestos types are classed as;

It is the brown and blue asbestos types which are most often associated with being the cause of mesothelioma. Millions of people all over the world have been affected by the inhalation of asbestos fibers, putting them at risk of contracting asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, or other deadly diseases directly caused by these toxic levels of asbestos.

What is Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a noncancerous, chronic inflammatory medical condition which scars the parenchymal tissue of the lungs, and is caused by the inhalation of toxic levels of asbestos fibers. The asbestos fibers activate the lung's immune system which causes an inflammatory process resulting in connective-tissue-based scars to form a condition known as fibrosis. This scar tissue will slowly builds up, to the extent where it reduces the lung's ability to deliver oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide. The lung capacity may also be reduced which in turn will lead to breathing problems. In severe cases of asbestosis the impairment of lung function places a tremendous strain on the heart, causing heart disease, such as right-sided heart failure or "cor pulmonale."

Signs and symptoms of asbestosis will typically not become apparent until years after exposure. But once diagnosed, the condition will often worsen and lead to severe disability and even death if the exposure to asbestos continues.

What is Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the cells that form the mesothelium, the membrane surrounding the main organs of the body. Mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos fibers or dust and primarily strikes those individuals who have worked with asbestos products. Others have been exposed to asbestos fibers in their homes, often without knowing it. Because of the latency of the cancer, it will typically not appear for 20 to 50 or more years after the initial exposure.

There are approximately 3,000 to 4,000 new cases of mesothelioma reported in the United States each year, mostly amongst men over the age of 40, and the figure is on the increase. It is estimated that there will be approximately 250,000 cases of Mesothelioma before 2020.

Whilst asbestosis and mesothelioma share a common cause... the inhalation of asbestos fibers... they are entirely different conditions, and there are few similarities between the two illnesses. Asbestosis is the build up of scar tissue on the lungs, which restricts their expansion and contraction. Early signs of the illness include a shortage of breath after physical exertion. During the later stages, the shortness of breath occurs even at times of rest. Other symptoms of asbestosis are chest pains and bouts of coughing. Asbestosis is quite often mis-diagnosed as being asthma particularly because many of the symptoms of the two conditions are similar. Physicians deal with a lot more cases of asthma than they do asbestosis.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that affects the mesothelium of certain internal organs. Although the symptoms of asbestosis and mesothelioma are similar, in the case of mesothelioma, it is cancerous cells that are causing these symptoms. Asbestosis is a non-cancerous illness.

There are also major differences in the treatments of asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Whilst treatment for asbestosis centers around preventing the condition from deteriorating and easing the symptoms, treatment for mesothelioma will depend on how far the cancer has developed. If diagnosed early enough, there is a good possibility that the cancerous tumors can be removed or abnormal cells killed using radiation or chemotherapy. Later stages of mesothelioma cancer can be treated, but treatment becomes more difficult if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Regardless of the type of treatment, both asbestosis and mesothelioma have a very poor prognosis.

Reference: Trevor Taylor - writes of his experiences in the Asbestosis and Mesothelioma arena at Asbestosis Mesothelioma Information

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