Written by Jenna Campagna, RN


Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that develops in the protective lining around the lungs, abdomen and heart. It is caused by exposure to asbestos and has a prognosis of 1-2 years.


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Types of Mesothelioma

Types of Mesothelioma

Doctors determine the type of mesothelioma based upon where the tumors develop in the body. Pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma, the two most common types, comprise almost all of the cases.

Pleural Mesothelioma
Pleural Mesothelioma
  • Cancer of the pleura (lining of the lungs)
  • General prognosis of 8-19 months
  • Around 80% of patients are male, and average age at diagnosis is 72
Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Peritoneal Mesothelioma
  • Cancer of the peritoneum (lining of the abdomen)
  • Survival rates of 3-5 years with treatment
  • Around 55% of patients are males, and average age at diagnosis is 57

Hope for patients

Jenna Campagna, RN explains how she assists patients.

Jenna Campagna is a registered nurse and a mesothelioma patient advocate. She helps patients discuss their treatment options, offers ways to receive novel treatments that may still be in clinical trials and finds doctors who are open to multimodal surgical options.


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What Are the Causes and Risk Factors?

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors?

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Asbestos causes malignant mesothelioma. When inhaled or ingested, sharp asbestos fibers can irritate cells and turn them cancerous.

Unfortunately, asbestos was used during the 20th century to build and maintain homes, offices, factories, military ships and more.

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Risk Factors

Occupational Exposure:

Since asbestos was used for industrial and commercial purposes, the majority exposures occurred in the workplace.

Veterans Exposure:

The military's reliance on asbestos aboard ships and aircrafts is why veterans make up 33% of all mesothelioma cases.

Secondary Exposure:

Family members are exposed when their loved one carries asbestos into the home after a work shift. This is often how women develop mesothelioma.

Some common products that included asbestos are:

  • Cement boards/walls and ceiling tiles
  • Roof shingles
  • Insulation material
  • Joint compounds
  • Pipes and electrical wiring
  • Automobile brakes and clutches
  • Talc cosmetics (baby powder or makeup)
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Find out where you may have been exposed to asbestos

A nationwide list of sites where you or a loved one may have come in contact with asbestos.


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Veterans With Mesothelioma

Veterans With Mesothelioma

The prevalence of asbestos in the United States military put servicemembers at risk regularly and is the primary reason why so many veterans develop mesothelioma.

Veterans with mesothelioma have numerous treatment options, most notably through one of many Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in the country. Compensation options may be available to veterans from all branches of the military.

Select Your Branch for Specific Information


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What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

Early symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to those of more common diseases such as pneumonia, the flu or irritable bowel syndrome. Due to how long mesothelioma takes to develop, symptoms often don’t appear until tumors have progressed. Symptoms vary based on the type of mesothelioma.


Symptoms include:


Fluid buildup

(up to 95% of patients experience this symptom)


Chest pain

(up to 56% of patients)


Shortness of breath

(up to 42% of patients)

Other common symptoms:

Dry cough, weight loss, difficulty swallowing, general fatigue


Symptoms include:


Abdominal swelling caused by fluid buildup

(up to 80% of patients experience this symptom)


Abdominal pain

(up to 58% of patients)

Other common symptoms:

Weight loss, loss of appetite, bowel irregularity, general fatigue, seizures

Diagnosing Mesothelioma

Many patients are diagnosed with mesothelioma after exhibiting a persistent cough, pneumonia-like symptoms or fluid buildup. Because this type of cancer can take decades to develop, its symptoms often appear without warning.

When a patient exhibits persistent symptoms, a doctor will suggest a series of tests. These tests determine the type and stage of the cancer.

Diagnostic testing includes:

  • X-ray
  • CT scan, which shows visual evidence of pleural thickening and effusion
  • Cytology (fluid biopsy)
  • Tissue biopsy
  • PET scan

Diagnostic Testing Facts

According to one study, a fluid biopsy yielded a diagnosis in only 26% of mesothelioma cases. Tissue biopsies are far more often used during the diagnostic process due to better accuracy. In the same study, video-assisted tissue biopsies accurately diagnosed 98% of cases where this method was used.

Cell Types

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Mesothelioma Cell Types

Mesothelioma Cell Types

Mesothelioma cancer can be made up of three different cell variations, each with their own effects on a patient’s prognosis:

Epithelioid Cells

50-70% of cases

  • Longest life expectancy and most responsive to treatment
  • Pleural epithelioid mesothelioma has an average prognosis of 19 months
  • Peritoneal epithelioid mesothelioma has an average prognosis of 55 months

Sarcomatoid Cells

10-20% of cases

  • Shortest life expectancy of three types, least responsive to treatment and metastasizes fastest
  • Pleural sarcomatoid mesothelioma has an average prognosis of 8 months
  • Peritoneal sarcomatoid mesothelioma has an average prognosis of 13 months

Biphasic Cells

Around 30% of cases

  • A mixture of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells
  • Prognosis depends on which cell type is more prevalent
  • Both pleural and peritoneal biphasic mesothelioma have an average prognosis of 13 months


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Mesothelioma Prognosis

Mesothelioma Prognosis

A patient’s prognosis is often based on stage, cell type and their overall health. However, many patients have lived for multiple years due to evolving treatment, improved surgical techniques and the experience of mesothelioma specialists.

There are many ways you can beat your prognosis. Additionally, if you’re a spouse, child or grandchild, or a patient, researching all the new and emerging methods and finding a doctor is vital to your loved one’s survival.

Steps to Improve Your Prognosis


Find a Mesothelioma Specialist

Seeing a specialist is the most important way to improve your or your loved one’s prognosis. Surgeons and oncologists who specialize in treating mesothelioma are vital components of your treatment plan.


Explore Treatment Options

As a patient or loved one to a patient, you should explore all available treatment options. This includes methods such as immunotherapy, clinical trials and multimodal treatment regimens that involve a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.


Live a Healthy Lifestyle

A nutrient-rich diet and active lifestyle play a significant role in how you or your loved one feels before, during and after mesothelioma treatment.


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The 4 Stages of Mesothelioma

The 4 Stages of Mesothelioma

Staging determines a cancer’s severity and also indicates the available treatment options. Based on the stage of a patient's disease, specialists can prescribe treatments to remove the cancer or focus on limiting patient discomfort. Below are visual representations of mesothelioma staging and the average life expectancy for each stage of pleural mesothelioma specifically.

Mesothelioma at Stage 1

Stage 1

Life expectancy:
20 months

  • Cancer is localized to the point of origin.
  • There is no lymph node involvement.
  • Surgery is the most common form of treatment.
Mesothelioma at Stage 2

Stage 2

Life expectancy:
19 months

  • The cancer is no longer confined to the point of origin.
  • Lymph node involvement begins.
  • Patients at this stage have many treatment options, including aggressive surgery.
Mesothelioma at Stage 3

Stage 3

Life expectancy:
16 months

  • The cancer has spread beyond the point of origin.
  • Multiple lymph nodes are affected.
  • Surgery remains an option.
Mesothelioma at Stage 4

Stage 4

Life expectancy:
11 months

  • The cancer has spread to other organs and lymph nodes.
  • Patients may experience more severe symptoms.
  • Palliative treatment and surgical options are offered.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Staging

Specialists use a separate staging system for peritoneal mesothelioma — one which scores the extent of the disease within the abdomen. This staging system is called the Peritoneal Cancer Index (PCI). We have simplified that scoring system so that patients can correspond it with the more well-known four-stage model:

PCI OF 1-10


Five-year survival rate of 87%

PCI OF 11-20


Five-year survival rate of 53%

PCI OF 21-30


Five-year survival rate of 50%

PCI OF 31-39


Five-year survival rate of 29%


“Even though mesothelioma is not curable, it’s treatable and mesothelioma is not a death sentence. Anybody who has mesothelioma: Jump on it with both feet. Get on the road to wellness. If it’s concentrated in one area, have it taken out. You’ll live longer.”

- Gary M., a pleural mesothelioma survivor who was diagnosed in 2014


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Your Cancer Treatment Options

Your Cancer Treatment Options

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to mesothelioma treatment. Specialists choose from a variety of cancer treatment options depending on the location of the disease, the cell type and the patient’s personal medical history. For the best treatment for yourself or your loved one, find a cancer center with experience in mesothelioma treatment and research.



Surgery is the only treatment option known to significantly extend life. Almost every mesothelioma patient who has lived more than five years has had surgery.



The first-line chemotherapy drugs approved by the FDA to treat mesothelioma are Alimta and Cisplatin, which are often used together and in conjunction with surgery as a multimodal approach to improve a patient’s prognosis.



Radiation treatment is used to slow the growth and progression of mesothelioma in conjunction with other methods like surgery and chemotherapy. It is also used to reduce pain caused by tumor growth.


Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are an additional option to consider for patients who have exhausted other treatments. Immunotherapy drugs are currently being offered in clinical trials.

Common Questions About Mesothelioma

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What causes mesothelioma?

The only proven cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Loose strands of asbestos float in the air, invisible to the naked eye, and are easily inhaled or ingested. These fibers can travel into your lungs or abdomen and lodge into sensitive mesothelial linings, which causes cells to mutate and tumors to form.

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How many types of mesothelioma are there?

There are four types of mesothelioma: pleural, peritoneal, pericardial and testicular. The latter two are very rare, accounting for around 1% of cases. Pleural mesothelioma, which develops in the thin lining covering your lungs, is the most common. Peritoneal mesothelioma, which forms in the lining around your abdomen, accounts for around 20%.

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Is mesothelioma always fatal?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that can spread quickly to vital organs, such as your lungs, diaphragm, heart or intestines. The average survival time for mesothelioma is 1-2 years, but medical advancements have improved the prognosis for many patients. Starting treatment immediately offers the best chance for beating this cancer.

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Who faces the highest risk of mesothelioma?

Men ages 55 and older account for the majority of all mesothelioma cases. This is due to men working jobs that involved high risks of asbestos exposure. The occupations at greatest risk of developing mesothelioma are construction, electrical work, automobile repair, shipbuilding and military service.

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How many people get mesothelioma in the United States?

There are around 3,000 documented cases of mesothelioma in the U.S. each year. This makes mesothelioma one of the rarest known cancers. It is four times more common in men than women, and it predominantly affects elderly Americans at an alarming rate compared to young adults.

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How do you know if you have mesothelioma?

The primary symptoms of mesothelioma are pain, fluid buildup in the chest or abdomen, fever, weight loss, decreased appetite, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. Unfortunately, these symptoms are also features of the flu, pneumonia and COPD. If you have mesothelioma symptoms, visit a doctor immediately for testing.

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How can you stop mesothelioma?

The main way to stop the spread of mesothelioma is through multimodal treatment. The top three options are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Emerging methods include immunotherapy and tumor treating fields, which either helps the immune system fight mesothelioma or stops cancerous cells from replicating. Aggressive treatment often extends survival by multiple years.

Selecting a Top Doctor Is Critical

Selecting a mesothelioma specialist is one of the most important decisions for patients and their loved ones. Many of the top cancer centers in the United States have doctors who prioritize extending life expectancy through various treatment options.

By connecting with these facilities, patients can select a doctor with experience treating their specific type of mesothelioma and receive comprehensive care from a world-class treatment team.


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Compensation and Benefits

Compensation and Benefits


Can I File a Lawsuit?

Yes. Mesothelioma patients or their family members can sue the asbestos manufacturing companies that are responsible for their exposures as long as the time limit to file has not expired.


What Are Asbestos Trust Funds?

Once a connection was proven between asbestos exposure and cancer, people began suing the companies that exposed them. After a flood of lawsuits, some companies filed for bankruptcy. These companies were forced by bankruptcy judges to set aside funds for future asbestos victims.


How Do I Find a Mesothelioma Lawyer?

Mesothelioma lawsuits are complex and time-sensitive. It’s important to hire an experienced lawyer who specializes in asbestos litigation. They can guide you through the case process.

Veterans Compensation and Benefits

Are You a Veteran? Get VA Claims Help

Most veterans with mesothelioma are eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Two financial benefits available to veterans are: Disability Compensation, which is for veterans primarily exposed in the military; and Pension, which is for non-service-related mesothelioma cases. Family members and dependents can also receive financial assistance.

Mesothelioma Guide has a retired Navy veteran on staff who has decades of experience managing VA claims. LCDR Carl Jewett spent 24 years in the military and dedicates his professional career to helping veterans with mesothelioma. He can guide you or your loved one through the VA claims process and shorten the amount of time it takes to receive your benefits.


“In my mail today I received a letter from the VA with their decision about my DIC claim. I looked at the balance in my bank account and found that I have already received the payment for the first four months of back pay, plus the regular August 1 payment for July. I am blown away by this and cannot thank you enough, Carl, for all your help in filing this claim. Thank you.

- Trudy T.

Last Edited: August 29, 2022.

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