Both asbestosis and mesothelioma are caused by inhaling fibers from the mineral asbestos, but they aren’t the same disease. Each one of these conditions has its own set of symptoms, as well as specific treatment methods. Read on to find out more information about what differentiates these two illnesses.


People with either of these ailments may experience many similar symptoms, such as shortness of breath, particularly when in the early stages. Both of these illnesses have a long period of latency, which means diagnosing one or the other may not happen until many years after initial exposure has taken place.

When comparing these two illnesses, it’s important to have a basic knowledge of what each one is.

Similarities and Differences

Asbestosis is a chronic respiratory malady that is caused by being exposed to the fibers of the mineral for a long period of time. The inhaled fibers will cause scarring in the lungs and lead to hardening of the tissues. This will prevent someone from being able to take full, deep breaths.

It does have similarities to mesothelioma, but it is different in terms of severity and methods of treatment. It’s very similar to pulmonary fibrosis and is often misdiagnosed as such. However, the difference is that exposure to the mineral fibers doesn’t cause pulmonary fibrosis.

The disease is not cancer, but certain research studies have shown that having it could make a person more susceptible to developing lung cancer in the future. People who have this ailment are more likely to experience long-term health complications involved with it and it’s not curable.

Both maladies have the same cause and that’s from being exposed to airborne fibers. Therefore, those same people who are at risk of developing one condition are just as likely to be at risk for the other. It can take anywhere from 10 to 30 years for either of these ailments to develop.

Asbestosis develops due to lung scarring and fibers from the mineral getting into the alveoli. The alveoli are small air sacs in the lungs that are responsible for exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide. As the ailment progresses, scarring continues and it becomes harder and harder for a person to breathe. Smoking has been associated with this disease, but it has not been proven to have a correlation with mesothelioma.

When looking at the symptoms each ailment can cause, people often have the same ones, with weight loss, shortness of breath, chest pain and persistent coughing being the most common.

However, one main symptom that separates these two illnesses are clubbed fingers, which are specific to asbestosis. The issue is often an indicator of there being a problem with the lungs or heart. A person’s fingernails will become softer, rounder and wider and it’s thought to be the result of a lack of oxygen in the body. The scarring makes it harder for someone to breathe and this translates to there being less oxygen in the blood, which may cause clubbing. People with mesothelioma can develop clubbed fingers, but it is rare.


The methods of diagnosing these ailments are the same; it starts with imaging tests. The first step in the diagnostic process is an x-ray or CT scan. A doctor can identify a difference in the scans of a person’s lungs; the affected areas will show up as white on the imaging results. The stages will also look different on scans. If a physician suspects a person could have either of these illnesses, further biopsies and blood tests will be performed.


While people with mesothelioma are usually given a prognosis of 6 to 12 months as a collective, the rates for asbestosis are much better and it’s possible to live for decades with it. The primary downside for people with these diseases are limited treatment options. Both of these health conditions can be deadly and the type of outcome a person will have varies. Each case is unique.