A Quick Guide to Understanding Mesothelioma

Unfortunately, there is very little chance of anyone living out their entire life without being affected by cancer, be it personally or by someone close to them.

In fact, Macmillan statistics say there are now over 2.5 million people living in the UK with cancer.

Because of the many forms of cancer, some are straighter forward to treat, and others more complex.

One of the more complex and rare forms of cancer is mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is likely to be one form which very few have heard of. However, because of it’s rarity and relatively poor survival rates (in comparison to some), it is certainly a form of cancer we should all know more about.

So, to help break it down. Here is a quick guide to understanding mesothelioma.

A Rare Form of Cancer

Mesothelioma is especially rare because it is commonly linked to asbestos exposure. Around 2,600 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in the UK, the majority of them men.

The reason the majority are men is because of previous labour jobs which exposed them to asbestos fibres.

The cancer develops in the lining that covers the outer surface of some of the body’s vital organs. It often develops on the lining of the lungs (called pleural mesothelioma), however, it can also develop on the lining of the stomach, heart or testicles.

Most cases are diagnosed in people ages between 60-80.

Elderly couple purchasing life insurance

How it’s Caused

The use of asbestos was banned in the UK back in 1999, which means there are fewer diagnoses now than before this date because exposure is a lot less likely.

Essentially, exposure to the material asbestos, which was widely used in construction and mechanics is the main cause.

Tiny fibres are released into the air when the material is disturbed in any way, which when inhaled get stuck to the lungs. It can take as long as 20 years for symptoms to arise after exposure.


Symptoms of mesothelioma tend to appear slowly and gradually, often decades after the initial exposure to asbestos. Symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Swollen fingertips
  • Chest pain
  • Consistent fever

If you are suffering from mesothelioma in the tummy, you may also suffer from:

  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Feeling sick or being sick

Patients may initially be diagnosed with Asbestosis, a chronic lung condition caused by exposure to asbestos. His is because it shares many of the same symptoms.

Those who are diagnosed with it can then later develop mesothelioma, lung cancer or pleural disease.

Those who are diagnosed with asbestosis stand a better chance of survival, as the condition can be treated before it develops into an aggressive form of cancer like mesothelioma.


Diagnosis and Treatments

The most common tests for mesothelioma tend to be:

  • Computerised Tomography (CT scan)
  • Thoracoscopy or Laparoscopy
  • Fluid Drainage.

The use of these tests can help doctors understand the extent to the mesothelioma, and how far it might have spread.

There are a number of different treatments available depending on the severity of the cancer at the point of diagnosis. These are:

  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery

Often these treatments are combined. For example, chemotherapy might be combined with surgery to treat any potential remaining cancer following a surgical removal of a tumour.

Legal Questions

Because the majority of mesothelioma sufferers will have been exposed to asbestos in the work-place, they may well have a good claim for compensation against their previous employers.  There are also government schemes to compensate those who have suffered because of asbestos exposure.

While this doesn’t make the illness any easier to fight, it might give you a better sense of justice. Places like Asbestos Advice Helpline can give you all the possible information you need on this issue, and can explain what you might be owed.


As may already have become clear, the outlook for those diagnosed with mesothelioma isn’t great. It is hard to diagnose because it shares many symptoms with other illnesses and doesn’t have any standout ones of its own. This means it often isn’t found until the cancer has already spread.

Stats suggest around half of people with mesothelioma will live at least one year after diagnosis. However, just 1 in 10 lives at least five years after diagnosis. Currently, here are around 2,500 mesothelioma related deaths per year in the UK.