® Quick Summary

Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Patients with this cancer have a median life expectancy of 12-21 months, but treatments may extend survival. Since 1979, Sokolove Law has helped patients with mesothelioma navigate life after an unexpected and difficult diagnosis.

What Is Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that originates in the linings (mesothelium) that surround certain organs in the body. This rare cancer affects around 3,000 Americans each year.

There are 4 types of mesothelioma:

  • Pleural mesothelioma
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma
  • Pericardial mesothelioma
  • Testicular mesothelioma
Video Summary: Jim Sokolove, former Chairman and Founder of Sokolove Law, explains what mesothelioma is and who it affects. View Transcript.

What is mesothelioma? Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lungs that primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. That’s the basic thing that people have to understand. It is a cancer to the lining of the lungs that is 99% of the time caused by exposure to asbestos.

Who gets Mesothelioma? We’re talking about people who worked in factories, worked around brake linings, worked in the military and found themselves in an unfortunate situation where the manufactures of asbestos put profits ahead of people, did not inform these workers of the dangers. People went to work, doing the right thing, and wound up catching an environmental disease that came about by the exposure to asbestos, when the manufactures knew about this and refused to inform the workers.

Pleural Mesothelioma

Malignant pleural mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the lungs (pleura). It is the most common type of mesothelioma, accounting for roughly 75% of all cases.

“[Pleural] mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the chest. Many people think it might be lung cancer, but it actually isn’t, and it’s not caused by smoking. It’s caused by asbestos exposure.”

– Dr. Robert B. Cameron, Pleural Mesothelioma Specialist

Pleural mesothelioma is categorized into stages that describe how far a patient’s cancer has progressed. By identifying a patient’s mesothelioma stage, doctors can make informed treatment decisions that make the most sense for the individual.

Stage 1

Stage 1 of pleural mesothelioma is the earliest stage with the highest life expectancy, around 21.2 months. Patients with stage 1 mesothelioma are likely eligible for surgery, which is the most effective form of treatment.

Stage 2

In stage 2, the cancer begins to spread beyond the pleura. Patients with stage 2 pleural mesothelioma have a life expectancy of 18.9 months and may still qualify for surgery.

Stage 3

The cancer remains on one side of the chest but is continuing to spread in stage 3. Stage 3 pleural mesothelioma patients have a life expectancy of 14.3 months and are usually no longer able to undergo surgery.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of pleural mesothelioma, with an average life expectancy of only 10.1 months. By stage 4, the cancer has spread throughout the body through the lymph nodes, and the focus of treatment becomes enhancing quality of life through palliative care.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • Tightness in the chest
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fever
  • Fluid buildup in the chest wall (pleural effusions)
  • Pain in the ribs
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shoulder pain
  • Upper back pain
  • Night sweats

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Peritoneal mesothelioma originates in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum), making up around 10-15% of all mesothelioma cases.

The median life expectancy for peritoneal mesothelioma patients is around 53 months with treatment.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • Abdominal distension (swelling)
  • Blood in vomit and/or stool
  • Fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity (ascites)
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

Rare Types of Mesothelioma

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma originates in the lining of the heart (pericardium). It is one of the least common forms of mesothelioma, making up only 0.7% of all cases. The life expectancy of pericardial mesothelioma patients is approximately 6 months.

Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Heart palpitations (arrhythmia)
  • Heart murmurs
  • Irregular heartbeat

Testicular Mesothelioma

Testicular mesothelioma occurs within the lining of the testes (tunica vaginalis). It is one of the rarest forms of mesothelioma, accounting for less than 1% of all cases. The median life expectancy of testicular mesothelioma is 23 months after surgery.

Testicular mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Inflammation or thickening of the testicular lining
  • Swelling of the testicles

Mesothelioma Cell Types

Mesothelioma tumors are made up of 3 main cell types:

  • Epithelioid
  • Sarcomatoid
  • Biphasic (mixed)

Each cell type grows and spreads at a different rate, giving them a unique prognosis and treatment response.


70% of all mesothelioma cases are of the epithelioid or epithelial cell type. Patients with epithelioid mesothelioma have the best life expectancy because epithelial tumors grow slowly and respond well to treatment.


Sarcomatoid mesothelioma makes up 7-15% of all mesothelioma cases. Patients with this fast-growing cell type have the lowest life expectancy, responding poorly to treatment.


Biphasic mesothelioma tumors account for 10-20% of all cases and have a mixture of epithelioid cells and sarcomatoid cells. The life expectancy of biphasic mesothelioma generally falls somewhere in between that of the other cell types.

Mesothelioma Causes

Exposure to asbestos is the only proven cause of mesothelioma. The U.S. military and many private industries capitalized on the usefulness of asbestos throughout the 1900s, using asbestos-containing products heavily.

Groups with a higher risk of asbestos exposure include:

  • Tradespeople
  • U.S. military veterans
  • Loved ones of individuals exposed to asbestos
  • Individuals living near an asbestos mine

The greater the exposure to asbestos fibers, the greater the chance of developing a devastating disease such as mesothelioma. Companies that sold asbestos products were aware of the risk factors of this mineral and deliberately hid the truth from the government and the public.

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Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Early detection and diagnosis of mesothelioma are crucial to accessing and qualifying for curative treatments.

Mesothelioma is diagnosed through the following steps:

  1. Doctors perform a physical exam and study a patient’s symptoms.
  2. They will then use X-rays and CT scans to look for tumors. They may also perform and study blood tests.
  3. A biopsy (fluid or tissue sample) is needed to make an official diagnosis.

A cancer diagnosis is devastating — paying for treatment shouldn’t add to your worries. Contact Sokolove Law at (800) 647-3434 to see if you may qualify for compensation.

Misdiagnosing Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms are nonspecific and common in many other illnesses. Further, it can take roughly 20-50 years for individuals to experience symptoms of mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos.

These factors, and the sheer rarity of mesothelioma, tend to make diagnosing this type of cancer difficult.

Individuals who believe they may have mesothelioma should seek a second opinion from an experienced mesothelioma specialist. This reduces the chances of misdiagnosis and helps ensure effective treatment options will be available.

Mesothelioma Treatment

The most common mesothelioma cancer treatments are:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation

Specialists determine which mesothelioma treatment options make the most sense for the patient and create personalized treatment plans. These treatment strategies are based on a patient’s health information, prognosis, and personal wishes.

Doctors will often prescribe multiple types of treatments at once to increase their effectiveness.

Contact Sokolove Law to learn how we may help you afford the high costs of treatment.

Mesothelioma Surgery

Surgery is the most effective way to eliminate mesothelioma tumors. The purpose of surgery is to physically remove the tumors present in the patient.

Top surgeries for mesothelioma include:

  • Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) – pleural mesothelioma
  • Pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) – pleural mesothelioma
  • Cytoreduction with HIPEC – peritoneal mesothelioma

Since surgery for mesothelioma is aggressive, it is usually only an option for patients in the early stages of the disease who are otherwise in good physical health.

Mesothelioma Chemotherapy

During chemotherapy, patients are given drugs that kill mesothelioma cancer cells. Patients typically receive several rounds of chemotherapy over the course of their treatment.

Chemotherapy may be used before, during, or after surgery. When it is used depends on the treatment plan. It may also be used to ease painful symptoms in patients who cannot undergo surgery.

Mesothelioma Radiation Therapy

With radiation therapy, patients are exposed to powerful rays of energy that damage the DNA of mesothelioma cells, shrinking them or preventing them from multiplying.

Radiation therapy often has fewer side effects compared to surgery and chemotherapy, but in some cases, its high-energy beams can damage healthy tissue along with tumors.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials conduct cancer research for mesothelioma to determine whether new, cutting-edge therapies may help patients more than standard treatments.

Mesothelioma clinical trials are currently studying promising treatments including targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and gene therapy.

Accessing Treatment at a Mesothelioma Cancer Center

Connecting with a specialized oncologist at a mesothelioma cancer center helps patients get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. These facilities have access to state-of-the-art equipment and employ the best mesothelioma doctors in the United States.

When you work with Sokolove Law, you will be backed by an experienced team of health care professionals and support staff. Our team can help you understand your medical options and find a National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer center near you.

Mesothelioma Prognosis

Mesothelioma prognosis, which is the expected progression of the cancer, gives patients a general idea of what to expect after diagnosis and treatment. Since mesothelioma is often diagnosed after the cancer has spread, the majority of patients have a poor prognosis.

Prognosis takes into account both the life expectancy and survival rate for mesothelioma.

  • Mesothelioma life expectancy is 22.5 months on average.
  • The 1-year survival rate for mesothelioma is around 82%.

A mesothelioma patient’s prognosis is not final. Improving overall health and getting prompt treatment from a specialist have helped many patients far outlive their original prognosis.

Financial Assistance for Mesothelioma Victims

Most families do not expect a mesothelioma diagnosis and the high costs that come with treatment. These expenses can increase stress and cause further complications at a time when patients should be focusing on their health.

Fortunately, there are many potential options for financial assistance for mesothelioma patients and their family members.

  • Mesothelioma Lawsuits: Families affected by mesothelioma may be eligible to file a mesothelioma lawsuit and receive compensation by working with Sokolove Law, a national law firm that specializes in asbestos cases.
  • Asbestos Trust Funds: There is an estimated $30+ Billion allocated to asbestos trust funds to make up for the irreparable damage caused by manufacturers of asbestos-containing products.
  • VA Benefits: Veterans who developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos during their military service may qualify for compensation and other benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Mary Hesdorffer, NP, <span class='cite-title'/>Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation
Mary Hesdorffer, NP, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation

“[Mesothelioma is] an expensive disease to treat. A lawsuit doesn’t bring back your loved one, or it certainly doesn’t take away what’s happening with the disease. But it allows you that flexibility that you can take this money, and you can pay for any treatment that your insurance company may not cover.”

Sokolove Law Can Help You

We understand how physically, emotionally, and financially devastating it is when you or someone you love has been a victim of injustice. You are not alone.

The experienced mesothelioma lawyers at Sokolove Law are here to help. They can answer any questions you may have about mesothelioma lawsuits, asbestos trust funds, and VA benefits.

Don’t wait — request a free case review today.

Author:Sokolove Law Team
Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: September 9, 2020

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