Straight Talk about Mesothelioma, a blog series created by Michael T. Milano, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncology specialist, as a resource for mesothelioma patients and their loved ones.

Mesothelioma is a complex disease, challenging to diagnose and difficult to treat. Further complicating matters is the fact that there is still confusion surrounding the disease — not only among the public, but even within the medical community itself. With mesothelioma especially, knowledge is power. Here are several common myths and misconceptions about mesothelioma. I share them with you to debunk them once and for all.

Myth #1: Mesothelioma is a Disease of the Past

Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. According to a 2012 National Institute of Health report, Malignant Mesothelioma: Facts, Myths, and Hypotheses, cases of mesothelioma are actually on the rise. According to the report, more than 20 million people in the U.S. are at risk of developing malignant mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos. The mortality rates are estimated to increase by 5 – 10 percent per year in most industrialized countries until roughly the year 2020.

Myth #2: Mesothelioma is a Death Sentence

While it is true that there is no cure for the vast majority of patients with mesothelioma, progress is being made on early detection and new types of treatments. As a result, the longevity rates for victims of mesothelioma are slowly increasing. The earlier a patient is diagnosed, the more treatment options are likely to be available. If you or someone you care about was ever exposed to asbestos or asbestos-containing products, it is critical to get a comprehensive medical evaluation. Even if you do not have any symptoms, you should still get checked out by a physician. The disease can lay dormant for 30 to 50 years. Don’t wait to experience symptoms before telling a doctor about your concerns.

Myth #3: Mesothelioma is Caused by Smoking

The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. While the most common form of mesothelioma — pleural mesothelioma — develops in the lining of the lungs and can initially be mistaken for lung cancer, mesothelioma is a completely different type of cancer. Smoking in conjunction with asbestos clearly increases the risk of lung cancer, and smoking also increases the risk of bladder cancer and COPD; so smoking cessation is invaluable to your health.

Myth #4: Asbestos Exposure is No Longer a Concern in the United States

It is a surprise to many people to learn that asbestos is banned in fifty-five countries, but is still not banned in the U.S. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have put regulations and best practices in place governing the use of asbestos, we read news reports almost weekly about careless work practices and accidental asbestos exposure.

Myth #5: Men and Women Develop Mesothelioma at Equal Rates

Men are far more likely than women to develop mesothelioma, likely due to the fact that a far greater percentage of men worked in construction, roofing, U.S. Navy shipyards and in other industries known to have used large quantities of asbestos-containing materials.