Asbestosis vs mesothelioma: What’s the difference?

7 Min Read

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with asbestosis or mesothelioma, we understand it can be an unsettling time. Asbestos is now known to be hazardous, but it was widely used in construction through the 20th century. This means that over 50% of UK homes may contain asbestos – so exposure is common.

Many people may have been unknowingly exposed to asbestos. If you have suffered as a result of asbestosis symptoms and wish to seek compensation for personal injury or an accident at work, contact Enable Law.

This article will explain the difference between asbestosis and mesothelioma, the symptoms of mesothelioma, and how to make a claim.

What is the difference between asbestosis and mesothelioma?

Asbestosis is a chronic, long-term condition that sadly cannot be completely cured. It can leave sufferers vulnerable to other serious lung conditions – such as lung cancers like mesothelioma.

While there are a number of significant differences between asbestosis and mesothelioma, they have some key factors in common:

  • Both can only be caused by exposure to asbestos
  • Both feature a long period of time between contact with asbestos and development of the disease (sometimes several decades).
Asbestosis Mesothelioma
·         Not a cancer but a form of pulmonary fibrosis ·         A type of cancer only caused by exposure to asbestos
·         Found as scar tissue within the respiratory tract and lungs ·         Forms in the mesothelial tissue and mainly found in the lining around the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) or the lining of the tummy (peritoneal mesothelioma), testicles or heart
·         Despite being incurable, some patients may survive for decades with treatment ·         Average life expectancy is 12 to 24 months.


Asbestosis vs mesothelioma: Causes


Significant exposure to asbestos fibres causes both asbestosis and mesothelioma. The fibres are small and needle-like and can move through the air when materials containing asbestos are broken.

If these fibres are inhaled, they cannot degrade inside the body so end up becoming trapped inside the lungs or other tissues. This triggers an inflammation from the body which results in damage and scarring.

While both conditions are caused by asbestos exposure, asbestosis is not the same as mesothelioma and they differ in terms of development. While asbestosis is not considered cancerous, it is possible for asbestosis to turn into mesothelioma.

Asbestosis occurs as scar tissue in the lungs which can affect breathing. This scar damage cannot be reversed but it will not develop into tumours.

On the other hand, mesothelioma is cancerous – it involves DNA damage and unrestricted cell growth, which results in tumours. The tumours usually develop in the lungs, chest or abdomen. Over 2,600 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the UK every year.

There are four types of mesothelioma:

  1. Pleural – occurs in the tissue around the lungs and accounts for 75% of mesothelioma cases.
  2. Peritoneal – found in the abdomen lining.
  3. Pericardial – located in the lining of the heart.
  4. Testicular – found in the lining of the testicles

Asbestosis vs mesothelioma: Symptoms

Symptoms of asbestosis

Sufferers of asbestosis may not realise that they have the disease for some time. The symptoms of asbestosis and mesothelioma are similar – they both may cause shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and a persistent cough. In advanced cases they can also cause swollen fingertips.

The main symptoms of asbestosis include:

  • Increasing breathlessness – at the start it may only occur when moving, but as it progresses, even when still
  • Decreased lung capacity – the lung tissue may become stiffer and make it more difficult to breathe
  • Wheezing
  • Shoulder pain
  • High blood pressure

Symptoms of mesothelioma

The key symptoms of mesothelioma include:

Peritoneal mesothelioma may also cause vomiting and nausea. You may also have diarrhoea, constipation, or tenderness around the stomach.

Asbestosis vs mesothelioma: Treatment and life expectancy

Asbestosis treatment

There is no cure for asbestosis, but sufferers can receive care to reduce the impact of the symptoms. This care includes:

  • Oxygen therapy to help with your breathing
  • Physiotherapy to try to clear the lungs
  • Painkilling medication and other drugs may be prescribed by your doctor to help loosen the materials secreted from the lungs
  • Surgery may be recommended to remove scar tissue 

Asbestosis life expectancy

Asbestosis life expectancy varies from patient to patient, and depends on how advanced the disease has become. People with asbestosis can often survive for some time after diagnosis – sometimes going on to live for many years.

Mesothelioma treatment

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, there are a number of treatments your doctor may recommend to you. Some sufferers may take part in clinical trials to try new treatments.

Some of the main treatment options available to you may include:

Mesothelioma life expectancy

The average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is 12 to 24 months. While it is possible to cure mesothelioma, the success of treatment depends heavily on how far the illness has progressed – your doctor may be able to help you understand your situation. It may be a priority to receive palliative care to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible.

Getting a diagnosis for asbestosis or mesothelioma

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, and you know that you have previously come into contact with asbestos at some stage in your life or work, it might help to let your doctor know.

Even though it is expected that 18% of all lung cancers may be caused by asbestos, asbestos-related cancer can be misdiagnosed as conventional or smoking-related lung cancer.

If you have come into contact with asbestos in the past, your doctor will be able to help outline asbestos versus mesothelioma and guide you through the symptoms to look out for.

Making an asbestosis or mesothelioma claim

If you have contracted asbestosis or mesothelioma because somebody, such as a past employer, wrongfully exposed you to it, you may be able to bring an asbestosis claim against that person.

Even if your condition is chronic or terminal, an industrial disease claim may help you to live as comfortably as possible and get recognition for misjudgements. Specialists like Laura Williamson have helped to bring about asbestos-related compensation claims of up to five or six figures.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, you may be able to claim accident at work compensationContact us and our specialist asbestos solicitors can talk you through your options and discuss what we can do to help.

Asbestosis vs mesothelioma: Key questions.

Does asbestosis always lead to mesothelioma?

Asbestosis and mesothelioma are different diseases – the former is a type of pulmonary fibrosis, and the latter is a form of cancer. But, if you are diagnosed with asbestosis, there is a heightened risk that it could develop into an asbestos-caused cancer, such as mesothelioma.

How much exposure to asbestos causes mesothelioma?

Significant exposure to asbestos, over a prolonged period of time, may lead to the development of mesothelioma. People most at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases are those who worked in construction from the 1970s to 1990s, who were exposed to asbestos for many years.

Second-hand asbestos exposure also poses a risk of individuals developing mesothelioma. Families of construction workers of this time could have been exposed through clothes or tools that had been brought into the house.

How long do you have to claim for asbestos?

You typically have three years to claim for asbestos compensation – from the day that you were diagnosed with the illness. This time period is eliminated if the case involves someone with a limited mental capacity who is unable to make legal decisions. As with any personal injury case, it’s important to try to claim compensation as soon as you can.