Mesothelioma and lung cancer are two different illnesses, although they have similar symptoms and can both be caused by asbestos exposure. Lung cancer, meanwhile, can be small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). SCLC is becoming much less common and only 14% of people diagnosed with lung cancer have SCLC. It is important, however, to understand the differences between SCLC and mesothelioma.

Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

In a research by the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer involving 8,088 patients with SCLC, it was demonstrated that the TNM staging system can be applied to the condition. SCLC is divided into ‘limited’ (stages 1 to 3, so long as no malignant pleural effusion is present), and ‘extensive’ (stage 4).

Limited disease is found in around 30% of those who have SCLC. The other 70% have extensive SCLC or have a pleural effusion, which means the prognosis is very poor. The stage of SCLC is the most important thing in determining not just overall prognosis, but also available treatment. Interestingly, another factor that seems to be of importance in the prognosis for people with SCLC is the amount of body weight that patients have lost. If they lose more than 5% of their body weight, their prognosis is significantly worse.


Every year in this country, around 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed, most of which are related to asbestos exposure on the job. The majority of people have pleural mesothelioma, which means it forms on the lungs’ lining. However, it can also appear on the lining of the heart or the abdomen.

There has been a marked decline in the use of asbestos in this country, but because it takes a long time for mesothelioma to become apparent, the number of people who have developed the disease continues to rise. It can take between 10 and 60 years for the condition to become apparent. A definitive diagnosis, made by an oncologist, can be very hard to come by, particularly in the early stages.

Mesothelioma is a cancer, just like SCLC. Hence, there is no cure for it. Nevertheless, it can be treated on some occasions successfully. However, the prognosis is incredibly poor for people who have mesothelioma. On the other hand, past deaths have not been in vain as researchers have been able to use the information to better understand the condition, and develop more appropriate treatments.

Different types of mesothelioma exist:

  1. Pleural mesothelioma, which develops in the lining of the lungs. This represents around 75% of all mesothelioma cases. Most research into mesothelioma treatment are focused on this area, and significant strides and progresses have been made.
  2. Peritoneal mesothelioma, which develops on the lining of the abdomen, which accounts for between 10% and 20% of all cases. This condition responds quite well to a combination of chemotherapy and surgery.
  3. Pericardial mesothelioma, which develops on the lining of the heart. This is present in around 1% of cases. Due to its sensitive location, this is classed as the hardest to treat.
  4. Testicular mesothelioma, which develops in less than 1% of all cases.

Small Cell Mesothelioma

In very rare cases, some people may suffer from small cell mesothelioma, which is a subtype of the condition. The cells in this type of cancer are much smaller than those in regular mesothelioma. In most cases, people who have small cell mesothelioma also have regular mesothelioma, which is unfortunate, as small cell mesothelioma is much easier to treat in theory. Overall, only around 6% of all cases of mesothelioma are of the small cell type. The reason why this form of mesothelioma matters, however, is because it is so similar to SCLC that it is often difficult to differentiate between the two. Getting an accurate diagnosis is often almost impossible, and full immunohistochemical tests have to be ordered in order to identify the disease. Other illnesses, including lymphoma, primitive neuroectodermal tumors, desmoplastic small round cell tumors, and metastatic small cell carcinomas, can all be confused with it.

The survival rate for people with small cell mesothelioma is just eight months. Because it is generally diagnosed when it is already in an advanced stage, little treatment options other than palliative care can be used. A 2012 study looked at just eight cases, but six of those patients died during the observation period, so very few conclusions could be drawn.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma and SCLC

Asbestos, when disturbed, releases fibers into the air. When these are inhaled or swallowed, our bodies are almost incapable of getting rid of them. The trapped fibers start to cause biological changes, leading to scarring, inflammation, and genetic damage. This can lead to cancer. The latency period is incredibly long, however, and people often don’t realize they have mesothelioma, asbestosis, SCLC, or other asbestos-related illnesses until it is too late. The pleura, which is the lining of the lungs, is where both mesothelioma and SCLC develop.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma and SCLC

The symptoms of mesothelioma and SCLC are quite similar, particularly in as such that they are often so mild that they are not recognized by people. It isn’t until the cancer has progressed significantly that symptoms become apparent. Some people will experience slight pain and some fatigue in earlier stages. The later onset symptoms, which usually prompt people to visit their physician, include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid buildup
  • Weight loss
  • Bowel obstruction

In addition, there are many other symptoms to look out for. With both mesothelioma and SCLC, if the cancer is spotted early, the possibility of treatment being successful is greatly increased. As such, people should look out for symptoms such as:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Dry cough
  • Difficulty swallowing

Mesothelioma and SCLC Diagnosis

Once a patient presents with the above-mentioned symptoms, a physician will usually start by asking patients about their history. For those who know that they have been exposed to asbestos, mesothelioma will be suspected. If the patient is a smoker, SCLC is usually suspected.

Diagnosis is done through a number of different tests. These tests will also enable a physician to determine whether or not it is cancer, and if so, which type. The tests that can be used for this include:

Imaging scans like an x-ray, which may show some abnormal growths. If so, an MRI, CT scan, or PET scan may be requested.
A biopsy, which is where a piece of the abnormal growth (if it is detected) is removed and tested for cancer. This test will also be able to determine whether the cancer is SCLC or mesothelioma.
Blood tests, which will not determine whether someone has mesothelioma or SCLC, but these tests are believed to be beneficial in terms of determining whether someone is in the early stages of developing a form of cancer.