While rare when compared to other forms of cancer, thousands of individuals are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year in the United States. Because of its relative rarity, there are more than a few misconceptions about this form of cancer. To better educate the public, we’re going to dispel a few of these myths and replace them with hard truths.

MYTH: Mesothelioma is caused by smoking cigarettes.

FACT: Contrary to this popular misconception, mesothelioma is not caused by smoking cigarettes. Rather, it’s caused by exposure to asbestos. That being said, being a smoker has been shown to increase one’s susceptibility to developing mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure.

MYTH: Mesothelioma is the same as lung cancer.

FACT: While mesothelioma develops near an individual’s lungs, it is not actually considered a form of lung cancer and must be treated differently. Sometimes, however, pleural mesothelioma is misdiagnosed as lung cancer, as it affects the lining around the lungs.

MYTH: Mesothelioma only affects men.

FACT: While far more common in men, who are four times more likely to develop the cancer, mesothelioma can also affect women. Because it’s caused by exposure to asbestos, either gender is at risk for developing mesothelioma.

MYTH: Only the elderly are at risk for mesothelioma.

FACT: While it is true that mesothelioma can take several decades to develop after exposure to asbestos – leading to the elderly being far more likely to be diagnosed – the cancer can develop in younger individuals, even children. Recently, studies have suggested that the average age for a mesothelioma diagnosis has been skewing younger.

MYTH: Only a significant, long-term exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma to develop.

FACT: While a significant exposure to asbestos does increase the likelihood, even minor exposure can lead to mesothelioma developing in an individual. In fact, a significant exposure to asbestos over a short-term period has been shown to be a common cause of the cancer.

MYTH: Mesothelioma is caused by genetics.

FACT: While other forms of cancer are genetically linked, mesothelioma is not one of these cancers. That being said, secondary exposure is always a risk. This happens when someone who has been exposed to asbestos carries it on their body, hair and clothes, thereby exposing other individuals, like family members, to it.

MYTH: Mesothelioma is contagious.

FACT: Like any other form of cancer, mesothelioma is not contagious – pure and simple.

MYTH: Significant and prolonged exposure to asbestos will always lead to mesothelioma.

FACT: While such an exposure to asbestos is absolutely a precursor to developing the cancer, only between two and ten percent of people who are so exposed end up developing it.

MYTH: Being diagnosed with mesothelioma is a death sentence.

FACT: There can be no doubt that a mesothelioma diagnosis is a serious one. However, multiple treatments have been developed, and some of them have proven to be quite successful. If you’re diagnosed, your physician will review the treatment options with you.

MYTH: Mesothelioma is becoming rarer, so I don’t need to worry about it.

FACT: While awareness of asbestos’ negative effects has served to decrease the overall risk level of mesothelioma, research suggests that the number of cases is expect to increase and peak over the next decade.

MYTH: Because it takes so long to develop, mesothelioma can’t be diagnosed early.

FACT: While it is true that mesothelioma usually takes a significant period of time to develop after asbestos exposure, researchers have developed, and are continuing to refine, ways of diagnosing early. If you feel that you’re at risk for developing mesothelioma, then it makes sense to have yourself checked. An early diagnosis can dramatically increase your chance of surviving.