When looking at the causes of mesothelioma cancer, exposure to asbestos is the main risk factor for developing the disease.
Table of Contents
- Exposure to asbestos is the most significant risk factor for developing mesothelioma.
- The majority of patients who develop mesothelioma report significant previous exposure to asbestos.
- There are a number of other risk factors that can increase your risk of developing mesothelioma.
- There are ways to prevent exposure, possibly also preventing mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma symptoms often take 10 – 50 years to develop, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. Asbestos is currently the only known and proven cause of malignant mesothelioma, accounting for 90% of reported cases. Research efforts also continue to look into the etiology of mesothelioma to understand all potential causes and more about asbestos.
Causes Of Mesothelioma And Asbestos Exposure
When asbestos is disturbed, the fibers become airborne and can be swallowed or inhaled, eventually becoming lodged in the delicate lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. The fibers cause irritation and scarring that can mutate, suppressing the body’s natural defenses against cancer. Eventually, this scar can develop into tumorous growths leading to a diagnosis of mesothelioma.
Although the link between asbestos and deadly lung disease was known before 1900 in asbestos mine workers, it was not until the 1960s that a formal study linked asbestos exposure to cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
One of the most common places of exposure to asbestos is in the workplace. However, dormitories, schools and older homes have also been observed to contain asbestos, which is often disturbed during renovations, repairs and extensions.
Common occupations with a risk of asbestos exposure
- Shipyard workers
- Construction workers
- Machine workers
- Boiler workers
- Demolition teams
- Pipe fitters
- Workers in steel mills
- Manufacturers of asbestos products
- Power plant workers
- Railway men
- Car service workers
- Insulation installers
- Oil refinery workers
Because asbestos is strong and resistant to water, fire and chemicals, it is widely used in a variety of products and manufacturing processes. Asbestos was used in everything from machine shops and industrial premises to floor tiles and insulation in older homes, making it a fairly common ingredient in many products and materials still in use today.
Common materials containing asbestos
- Electrical wiring
- Pipe materials
- Automotive parts (brake pads)
- Fire resistant clothing
- Potting soil
- Contaminated talcum powder
If you suspect the presence of asbestos, contact a certified removal professional. Disturbing the material can make the fibers airborne, exposing you to the cancer-causing material. A professional can safely test materials for asbestos and determine if removal or containment is necessary.
Also Read: What Is Mesothelioma And Types Of Their Symptoms?
Other Risk Factors For Mesothelioma
Although 90% of mesothelioma cases are directly related to asbestos exposure, research shows that there are other mesothelioma risk factors that can be potential causes or contributors to the development of mesothelioma, including:
More Potential Risk Factors For Mesothelioma
Some mesothelioma cancer patients believe that radiation exposure caused their mesothelioma, without any exposure to asbestos, although this has not yet been confirmed.
High Aspect Ratio Nanoparticles (HARN)
Some cases have demonstrated a link between HARNs (such as carbon nanoparticles) and mesothelioma, but without conclusive evidence.
Zeolites are silicone-based materials that exhibit similar characteristics to asbestos fibers, while also acting as potential cancer risk factors. Erionite in particular has been associated with mesothelioma, especially in cases in Cappadocia, Turkey, where the mineral occurs naturally.
Simian Virus 40 (SV40)
Research shows that the SV40 virus does not appear to be a direct cause of malignant mesothelioma, but may be a contributing factor in some cases of mesothelioma.
Who Is Most Susceptible To Developing Mesothelioma?
In addition to asbestos and other potential causes of mesothelioma, there are pre-existing risk factors that can make an individual more likely or less likely to develop the cancer.
- Age: 91% of mesothelioma patients diagnosed are 55 or older.
- Gender: More than 75% of mesothelioma deaths are men.
- Genetics:A mutation in the tumor suppressor gene BAP1 can suppress the body’s ability to fight cancer cells. Although mesothelioma is not contagious or genetic, a mutation in this gene can run in a family, creating an inherited risk.
- Duration of exposure to asbestos:Increased exposure increases the likelihood of asbestos fibers entering the body, along with increased irritation, scarring, mutation and therefore an increased chance of developing mesothelioma.
- Smokers vs. non-smokers:Although there is no proven direct link between smoking and mesothelioma, data show that smokers who have been exposed to asbestos are 50-90% more likely to develop lung cancer. Likewise, individuals exposed to asbestos who smoke are twice as likely to develop mesothelioma.
Asbestos has not yet been completely banned and is therefore still present in many of our environments and products. Efforts continue to identify and eliminate sources of asbestos with the help of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in enacting asbestos laws and with ongoing research into mesothelioma by organizations such as the National Cancer Institute.
To prevent exposure to the cancer-causing materials, people need to educate themselves about asbestos, including what products still contain the toxin and where it was found. If asbestos or asbestos-like mineral fibers are suspected, they should not be alarmed. A certified asbestos removal expert should be brought in to handle and dispose of the toxin.
Knowing the other known risk factors for mesothelioma can help people be more aware of a potential diagnosis. Additionally, any suspected symptoms should be addressed to a healthcare provider immediately. Early detection is key to ensuring a wide range of cancer treatment options and the longest possible life expectancy.