CNN mistakes mesothelioma for lung cancer

This is a pretty common mistake in the popular press – thinking mesothelioma is a form of lung cancer. In mesothelioma, the tumor is on the mesothelium, which is the lining of the pleural cavity. In lung cancer, the tumor is in the lung tissue.

In this case, the story was on Dana Reeve, the widow of Christopher Reeve, who died of lung cancer at age 44. Most (but not all) cases of lung cancer can be attributed to smoking. In the popular imagination, all lung cancer patients smoked, but that is not necessarily true. Dana Reeve said she never smoked, but she got cancer anyway.

The CNN story says “other factors associated with lung cancer include exposure to asbestos or fine airborne particulates.” I understand that journalists don’t want to spend time and space explaining that asbestos causes mesothelioma, which is not the same as lung cancer, but it still sometimes irks me.