Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and mesothelioma are types of cancers that impact the chest and lungs. While they have similar symptoms, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or chest pain, they are very different conditions.
Mesothelioma occurs in the layer of tissue that covers your internal organs. This form of cancer is extremely rare and, unfortunately, is typically highly aggressive and deadly. Lung cancer, on the other hand, is the growth of abnormal cells in the lungs. As they grow, they can form tumors and interfere with the lung’s ability to function properly. NSCLC accounts for 85% of lung cancer cases and includes three different types of cancers: adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.
- Adenocarcinoma: This type of cancer forms in the mucus-secreting glands throughout the body, usually the lungs. Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of NSCLC.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This is the second most common type of skin cancer, occurring in 25% of all lung cancer cases. While it often develops as a result of damage from the sun or tanning beds, it also can form in the flat cells that line the inside airways of the lungs.
- Large cell carcinoma: This type of cancer occurs in 10% of all lung cancer cases. This type can appear in any part of the lung and generally spreads more quickly than other types of non-small cell lung cancers.
Primary Differences Between Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer
While the same factors can cause both of these conditions, such as exposure to asbestos, they occur in different areas of the body. Lung cancer develops within the lungs themselves and can occur in one or both lungs. Mesothelioma, on the other hand, develops in the layer of tissue that lines the organs, such as the lining of the abdomen, testes, or heart. It can also develop around the lining of the lungs; a condition called pleural mesothelioma.
Where the cancer develops is not the only difference between the two cancers, though. Because lung cancer occurs because of the abnormal growth of cells, it tends to grow in individual masses with defined boundaries. Mesothelioma, conversely, starts as small tumors that scatter throughout the mesothelial lining. Eventually, those tumor nodules grow together to form a larger tumor around the organ.
Another notable difference between the two is how commonly they occur. Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer in the United States, and in 85% of those cases, the cancer is non-small cell lung cancer. Mesothelioma, on the other hand, is extremely rare, with approximately 3,000 cases diagnosed each year.
Finally, the last major difference between the two is what causes the cancer to develop. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Studies have shown that eight out of ten cases of mesothelioma were caused by exposure to asbestos. Lung cancer, however, is primarily caused by smoking. Smokers exposed to asbestos are at a heightened risk of developing lung cancer.
How Asbestos Causes Lung Cancer
When someone is exposed to and inhales asbestos, the tiny fibers can become lodged in the lung tissue, and the body cannot degrade or expel them. The fibers themselves are soft and flexible, but they are also highly toxic and can cause inflammation, scarring, and damage to the body’s cells.
Generally, the more someone has been exposed to asbestos, the higher their risk is for developing lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, in most cases, asbestos-related lung cancer does not appear until at least 15 years after the first exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma typically takes 30 or more years to develop after the first exposure, and the risk does not decrease over time.
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Signs of an Asbestos-Related Condition
Some of the most common signs of an asbestos-related condition are:
- A cough that will not go away and worsens over time
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained and unexpected weight loss
- Hoarseness for no reason
- Chest pain
If you see any persistent signs that could indicate that you have developed an asbestos-related condition, it is a good idea to speak with your doctor. If you smoke and work around asbestos, you may want to consider quitting smoking, as the combination of asbestos exposure and smoking can increase your risk of developing lung cancer.
If you have developed cancer or another condition as a result of exposure to asbestos, you may be entitled to compensation. We do not shy away from tough cases just because your asbestos exposure occurred decades ago. For a free, no-risk consultation, contact Pintas & Mullins Law Firm at (800) 794-0444.