Mesothelioma Cells

Mesothelioma tumors can consist of two different types of cells, including epithelioid and sarcomatoid. Biphasic tumors contain both cell types. These cells look different under the microscope and behave differently, and this can affect a mesothelioma patient’s treatment options and overall life expectancy. For these reasons, it’s critical that the pathologist identifies the types of cells present when making a diagnosis.

8,200+ families helped
$5.1 billion recovered in cases
45+ Years of dedicated experience

What Are the Major Types of Mesothelioma Cancer Cells?

When mutated, cancerous cells develop in the lining of the abdomen, lungs, or heart — called the mesothelium — they are called malignant mesothelioma cells.

There are three main mesothelioma cell types: 

  • Epithelioid cells: Most mesothelioma tumors are made up of epithelioid cells. This cell type is the easiest to treat.
  • Sarcomatoid cells: These rare cell types are recognized by their large size and spindle shape. It is the hardest cell type to treat.
  • Biphasic tumors: Biphasic tumors contain both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells.  Which cell type is dominant will determine how fast the tumors spread and respond to treatment.

Researchers are still trying to understand how and different mesothelioma cell types come about, but they know that these cells follow similar growth and division patterns to other cancer cells.

It is believed that asbestos exposure is the cause of these mutations. When asbestos fibers get into the lung, they begin to slowly move within the body. When they reach the lung or peritoneal surface, they irritate healthy cells, eventually causing scar tissue and cancerous cells to form.

Each mesothelioma cell type responds differently to specific treatments, so correctly identifying the cell is key to effective treatment. For instance, a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation (called multimodal treatment) is the most common recommendation for epithelioid cells. Surgery and chemotherapy are frequently used for sarcomatoid cells.

How Mesothelioma Cell Type is Determined

Testing for mesothelioma begins with X-rays and CT scans of the chest or abdomen. If those tests show cause for concern, a biopsy will be conducted.

Through a biopsy, a mesothelioma specialist takes a fluid or tissue sample and examines it under a microscope. Through this, the specialist can determine if there are cancerous cells and if so, what type of cells are present.

Did You Know? A biopsy is the only way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.

For this reason, patients should work with a mesothelioma specialist to get their biopsy done. Mesothelioma can resemble other cancer types, leading to a misdiagnosis. General oncologists (cancer doctors) may treat mesothelioma incorrectly.

There are several ways to obtain tissue for biopsy.

Types of biopsies include: 

  • Thoracoscopy: The most common type of mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the lungs, called the pleura. A thoracoscopy involves using a camera to investigate the lungs and suction a small sample of fluid, which will be investigated for cancer cells.
  • Mediastinoscopy: Another procedure involves using general anesthesia to insert an instrument around the windpipe to examine lymph nodes around the windpipe. From there, doctors can take a biopsy from any tumors near the lymph nodes.
  • Fine-Needle Aspiration: Similar to the mediastinoscopy, fine-needle aspiration involves inserting a small needle between the ribs during a CT scan session.
  • Core Needle Biopsy: This allows a larger needle to take a bigger sample.

Which type of biopsy will be used depends on where the possibly cancerous tumor is located. Once a biopsy has been concluded, doctors can determine which mesothelioma cell types are present.

Epithelioid Mesothelioma Cells

Epithelioid cells are the most common mesothelioma cell type. Epithelioid cells characterized by a single nucleus, uniform appearance, and slow growth.

Epithelioid Mesothelioma Cells Prognosis and Treatment

Patients with epithelioid mesothelioma cells have relatively longer survival rates when compared to other cell types. On average, patients with epithelioid mesothelioma live 1-2 years after diagnosis.

However, mesothelioma prognosis is also affected by other factors like the stage of the cancer when it’s found, the patient’s overall health, age, and where the cancer develops in the body. For these reasons, prognoses can vary with each patient.

These factors also affect what type of mesothelioma treatments patients can safely undergo. Patients with epithelioid mesothelioma are typically treated through a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.

Types of Epithelioid Mesothelioma Cell Treatment


Surgery is the most frequent solution for epithelioid mesothelioma because epithelioid cells are less aggressive and less likely to return to the tumor site. However, patients who are older or who have underlying health issues may not qualify for surgery.


Chemotherapy uses chemicals to attack and kill tumors. It’s not as effective as surgery, but still a strong option for epithelioid tumors. A combination of pemetrexed and cisplatin or carboplatin is the most common chemotherapy treatment for epithelioid mesothelioma.


Through radiation therapy, electrons are aimed at the tumor to prevent cells from multiplying and to damage them. Radiation alone cannot properly treat mesothelioma, but it can be used in combination with other treatment methods. It’s also used to lessen pain and diminish symptoms.

Multimodal Treatment

Specialists generally agree that some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation is the most effective method of improving prognosis. This is known as multimodal treatment or therapy.

Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma Cells

Sarcomatoid mesothelioma cells are much more aggressive than epithelioid cells. Unlike epithelioid cells, sarcomatoid cells don’t clump into masses. More often they create small nodules that quickly spread throughout the body.

These cells are large and shaped like a spindle. Often, they will combine into fibrous-looking bundles.

The small size of sarcomatoid mesothelioma cells and their resemblance to other types of cancer cells make them difficult to properly diagnose. Fortunately, this is the least common of all mesothelioma cell types, so not as many patients are affected.

Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma Cells Prognosis and Treatment

Sarcomatoid cells frequently form as small nodules, and it can quickly spread from its origin point to nearby organs. It is also the most difficult mesothelioma cell type to treat, with an average prognosis of six months.

Some treatment options may be available to improve a patient’s prognosis depending on if the cancer is caught before it has spread throughout the body.


Surgery is usually not performed for sarcomatoid mesothelioma because the tumors are rigid and often grow directly into the chest wall. The cancer also frequently returns even after a comprehensive surgery.


Chemotherapy relies on a variety of chemicals to stop and prevent cancer cell growth. Sarcomatoid cells usually receive the same chemical combination as the other types of mesothelioma, which is a combination of pemetrexed and cisplatin or carboplatin.


Radiation cannot effectively rid the body of mesothelioma on its own, but specialists may consider it in combination with other treatments.

Biphasic Mesothelioma

Tumors formed by a combination of sarcomatoid and epithelioid cells are called biphasic tumors, or sometimes “mixed mesothelioma.” There are no biphasic cells. It accounts for 20-30% of mesothelioma cases.

Which mesothelioma cell type is dominant will affect how this type of cancer spreads and responds to treatments. A higher percentage of sarcomatoid cells means that biphasic mesothelioma may spread faster through the body. Epithelioid cells do not spread as quickly, but they do grow faster.

Biphasic Mesothelioma Prognosis and Treatment

A common method for identifying biphasic tumors is called immunohistochemistry. This involves coating cell walls with dye to make the proteins within cells more visible. A trained specialist can determine, based on the proteins, which mesothelioma cell type is dominant.

The prognosis for biphasic mesothelioma is one year, although that range from six months to more than five years.

Treatment for biphasic mesothelioma is also impacted by cell type. Sarcomatoid cells do not respond as well to treatment, which can make biphasic mesothelioma harder to treat even if epithelioid cells are present.


Biphasic peritoneal mesothelioma responds well to a combination of cytoreductive surgery with intraoperative heated chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy and Radiation

Neither of these strategies is particularly effective if more sarcomatoid cells are present, but if a biphasic tumor is mainly made up of epithelioid cells then they may be useful.

Seeking Treatment for Mesothelioma

No matter what mesothelioma cell type you are diagnosed with, there are treatment options available for you. It’s critical that you work with a mesothelioma specialist who can help determine the best treatments available for you.

These specialists can also help you by confirming your cell type before treatment begins. This is extremely crucial because mesothelioma cells closely resemble other cancers, meaning you could be misdiagnosed by a non-specialist and start receiving treatments for the wrong illness.

To learn more about mesothelioma cell types — and how they impact diagnosis and treatment options — get a free case review today.

Easier Than It May Seem

Your individual situation may merit an actual lawsuit. However, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Trusts have been set up to benefit victims of mesothelioma in such a way that lawsuits and court appearances aren’t needed. Contact us today and you’ll see how easy it can be to get the compensation you deserve.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who can file a mesothelioma claim?

A person who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma – as well as their spouse, child, or family member – may be able to file a claim to recover compensation from manufacturers of asbestos products. If the mesothelioma patient passes away, a family member or estate representative may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

How much money is in the asbestos trust fund?

An estimated $30 billion has been set aside in asbestos trust funds to compensate mesothelioma patients. Many companies that made asbestos products later filed for bankruptcy, so they created these trust funds to pay out future mesothelioma claims. If the company responsible for your asbestos exposure no longer exists, you may be entitled to money from their trust fund.

How do I file a mesothelioma claim?

To file a mesothelioma claim, contact an attorney who is experienced with these types of lawsuits. They will know where and when to file your claim, how to build the strongest case possible, and the best way to maximize compensation on your behalf.

What is the statute of limitations on mesothelioma claims?

The statute of limitations (deadline to file) for mesothelioma claims will vary depending on the state in which you file. In many states, it’s 2-3 years from the date of the mesothelioma diagnosis – though it may be longer if the mesothelioma patient has passed away. A mesothelioma lawyer can make sure your claim is filed within the required time frame.

How long do mesothelioma claims take?

Every mesothelioma claim is different, with circumstances and factors that are unique to that mesothelioma patient’s story. Though there’s no way to predict exactly how long a claim will take, an experienced mesothelioma attorney will ensure the process is handled as efficiently as possible.

Many claimants start to receive compensation in as few as 90 days after settling their mesothelioma claims.

What is the average payout for mesothelioma?

There is no guarantee of compensation when you file a mesothelioma claim, and countless factors affect how much money you might be able to recover (assuming your case settles). That said, 95% of these lawsuits are settled out of court, and the average settlement amount is $1-1.4 million.

How much is my mesothelioma claim worth?

Your mesothelioma case value depends on the specifics of your situation, such as the duration of your asbestos exposure, and the total cost of your mesothelioma treatment (as well as travel expenses and other related losses). The best way to figure out how much your claim is worth is to speak with a mesothelioma lawyer.

What type of mesothelioma claim do I have?

Most mesothelioma claims fall under one of four categories:

  • Personal injury: You were exposed to asbestos (often through your job, or your loved one’s), so you file a lawsuit against the company that made the asbestos products.
  • Asbestos trust fund: Similar to a personal injury claim, only the company in question went bankrupt, so you can’t sue them – but you may be able to access a trust fund they set aside for mesothelioma victims.
  • Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits: U.S. military veterans who were exposed to asbestos during their service may qualify for related health care benefits through the VA.
  • Wrongful death: When a mesothelioma patient passes away, their family member or estate representative may be able to file a lawsuit on their behalf, seeking money to pay for past medical expenses, pain and suffering, funeral expenses, etc.
    A mesothelioma attorney can determine which type of claim makes the most sense for you and your family. (Some clients qualify for more than one.)

Contact us to learn more.

Do you have questions or prefer to talk to an advocate?