What is the Difference Between Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma?

L.R. Ferguson
L.R. Ferguson
Smoking is closely associated with lung cancer.
Smoking is closely associated with lung cancer.

The most significant difference between lung cancer and mesothelioma is the part of the body in which the diseases originate and cause damage. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that begins in the mesothelium, the membrane that lines and protects the body’s organs. In particular, the mesothelium of the lungs is called the pleura. By contrast, lung cancer originates in the lung itself, though it can eventually spread to the mesothelium. It is common for people to confuse mesothelioma and lung cancer and to use the terms interchangeably, even though they function in quite dissimilar ways.

A human respiratory system.
A human respiratory system.

There are a number of distinctions that exist between lung cancer and mesothelioma. For instance, lung cancer and mesothelioma are caused by different factors. Mesothelioma is known to develop only from exposure to asbestos, a group of minerals that occur naturally in the environment and were once widely used for insulation. Asbestos fibers are nearly invisible and can become stuck in the lungs when inhaled. If this happens, the fibers can then accumulate, which generally leads to scarring of the pleura and the development of mesothelioma.

Smoking damages the lungs and increases a person's risk of developing serious illnesses.
Smoking damages the lungs and increases a person's risk of developing serious illnesses.

By contrast, lung cancer can develop from a number of factors but particularly from smoking tobacco. People who smoke cigarettes or other carcinogenic substances are at risk for developing lung cancer, especially if they smoke often and have done so for many years. Non-smokers can develop lung cancer from consistently being exposed to secondhand smoke. Those who work in occupations that put a person at risk for inhaling toxins, such as mining or factory work, also have chances of developing the disease, as do those who are exposed to heavily polluted air.

Furthermore, the manner in which lung cancer and mesothelioma form is different. In cases of lung cancer, multiple tumors form in the lungs, typically as separate growths. This allows the tumors to be specifically targeted for removal during treatment, which can be helpful in eliminating the malignant growths. By contrast, mesothelioma tumors spread among one another, making it difficult to pinpoint the tissue that is diseased from the tissue that is healthy. This complicates successfully removing the malignant tissue.

Mesothelioma and lung cancer are both serious and complicated diseases, but lung cancer occurs far more often, affecting hundreds of thousands of people each year. By contrast, mesothelioma is still considered to be a fairly rare illness, and a few thousand people are diagnosed with it each year. Still, both diseases take several years to develop, and they share similar initial symptoms, such as wheezing, chest pain and coughing up blood. Properly distinguishing between the two requires a thorough examination and diagnosis by a medical professional.

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    • Smoking is closely associated with lung cancer.
      Smoking is closely associated with lung cancer.
    • A human respiratory system.
      A human respiratory system.
    • Smoking damages the lungs and increases a person's risk of developing serious illnesses.
      Smoking damages the lungs and increases a person's risk of developing serious illnesses.