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A tumor of the tissue that lines your lungs, stomach, heart and other organs is called mesothelioma. These tumors can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (not cancerous).

Malignant mesothelioma is almost always caused by long-term exposure to asbestos. Because the disease typically takes a long time to develop, symptoms don’t usually appear until several decades after asbestos exposure. As a result, the disease tends to be more advanced by the time it’s diagnosed.

Although it often starts in the lungs, malignant mesothelioma is not the same as lung cancer.

Mesothelioma: things you should know

  • Common symptoms of malignant mesothelioma include the following:
    • Problems breathing
    • Chest pain or pain under the ribcage
    • Pain, bloating or lumps in the abdomen
    • Unexplained weight loss
  • Many people with benign mesothelioma don’t ever experience symptoms. If the tumor is large and pushes on the lung, however, it can cause these symptoms:
    • Chest pain
    • A cough that won’t go away
    • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Cigarette smoking does not appear to be a risk factor for mesothelioma. But smokers who are also exposed to asbestos are at a much higher risk for lung cancer.

How can I get help for mesothelioma?

Talk to your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms, especially if you know you have been exposed to asbestos at work or at home:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain (especially when taking a deep breath)
  • Pain, lumps or bloating in your abdomen
  • You are losing weight without trying
  • A cough that won’t go away
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Fatigue

Many of these symptoms are also symptoms of other conditions, including other lung diseases. Your doctor will run tests to see whether you have mesothelioma or another condition. It’s important to be evaluated by a medical professional to ensure that you receive the right diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible.

Care for mesothelioma at Rush

If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, you will be referred to a pulmonologist at Rush.

Pulmonologists, oncologists, thoracic surgeons, and other specialists at Rush pool their expertise to provide care and support for people with mesothelioma. Your care team will explain your options and design a treatment plan for you, which may include the following:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor (if the disease is diagnosed very early and a surgeon determines that the tumor can be completely removed)
  • Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to relieve symptoms
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Pain management                                                                                       

Why choose Rush for mesothelioma care

  • Thoracic surgeons at Rush have performed nearly 900 lung surgeries over the past three years. And they perform more minimally invasive lung cancer surgeries than any other hospital in the region. People who have minimally invasive procedures have shorter hospital stays and a faster recovery compared to those who undergo traditional open surgery.
  • The Rush University Cancer Center received the 2011 Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons' Commission on Cancer. Rush received this triennial award all three times since the award was created in 2004. The award recognizes programs that excel in providing quality cancer care.

Departments and programs that treat this condition