Though mesothelioma isn’t officially a form of lung cancer, it is often referred to as such by those who are unfamiliar with the differences between the two. This is a common mistake as many of the symptoms associated with malignant mesothelioma are also generally found in those who have lung cancer, including dry cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Hence, it isn’t unusual for mesothelioma to be mistaken for lung cancer at first glance. However, once testing of the patient is complete, including imaging scans and biopsies, a definitive mesothelioma diagnosis can be made. These similarities also mean it is necessary for anyone who was once exposed to asbestos, on-the-job or elsewhere, to provide their doctor with a clear and concise medical and occupational history so that a prompt diagnosis may be made when mesothelioma symptoms arise.

The major difference, however, between lung cancer and mesothelioma is that mesothelioma develops most often in the pleura, the thin membrane that forms the lining of the lungs, and not in the lungs themselves. In addition, mesothelioma cancer can also develop in other parts of the mesothelial membrane, including the peritoneum (lining of the abdomen in peritoneal mesothelioma) and the pericardium (lining of the heart in pericardial mesothelioma). Lung cancer can spread to other parts of the body but always begins in the lungs.

There may be similarities in how lung cancer and asbestos-caused mesothelioma are treated. Often, chemotherapy is recommended for the treatment of both forms of cancer in order to shrink tumors and kill toxic cancer cells. Radiation may also be part of the treatment protocol for both lung cancer and mesothelioma. Like mesothelioma, those with lung cancer are generally not candidates for surgery unless the disease is detected in its early stages. Both groups of patients, however, may take advantage of clinical trials designed to test new drugs like Alimta®, Carboplatin, Cisplatin, Gemcitabine, and Navelbine, in addition to novel alternative mesothelioma treatments.

Smoking can cause lung cancer and is indeed the most prevalent cause of the disease. There is no correlation between smoking and mesothelioma in a causal sense, but smoking can certainly aggravate the disease, so mesothelioma victims should not smoke. Furthermore, individuals who have asbestosis, another less-serious asbestos-caused illness, should not smoke either as smokers with asbestosis are much more likely to develop mesothelioma in the future.

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