NHS Choices information on mesothelioma

Key Information

Content produced by Your.MD

What should I do?

If you think you have this condition you should see a doctor within 48 hours.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor may suspect mesothelioma based on your symptoms and a history of exposure to asbestos. You may then need tests including a chest X-ray, computerised tomography (CT) scan, lung fluid sampling or a thoracoscopy (examination of the inside of the chest using a camera).

What is the treatment?

If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, your treatment will be focused on managing symptoms and slowing progression of the disease. Possible treatment options include:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy
  • surgery.

Often with this condition, fluid can collect in the chest. If this happens to you, your chest will require regular drainage to improve your breathing, or you may be advised to have a procedure called pleurodesis which sticks the lining of the lung together.

Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelial cells, which are the cells that make up the membrane (lining) that covers the outer surface of most of our body organs.

For example, mesothelioma can develop in the lining covering the lungs.

What is the cause?

Asbestos is the most common cause of mesothelioma. Most people diagnosed with mesothelioma will have been exposed to this mineral at some point in their life.

Mesothelioma can develop many years (usually 40-60 years) after the initial exposure to asbestos.


The outlook for mesothelioma is poor, because it is usually diagnosed when it is at an advanced stage. Most people diagnosed with mesothelioma will die within three years of being diagnosed.

The number of deaths from mesothelioma is expected to rise in the years ahead due to the long gap between exposure to asbestos and the onset of the cancer.

Want to know more?

Health A-Z: asbestosis

Health A-Z: cancer

Cancer Research UK: mesothelioma

Macmillan: mesothelioma

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