Mesothelioma Causes

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer with only one known cause: asbestos exposure.

Asbestos fibers can become trapped in the lungs when inhaled, leading to inflammation and scarring, eventually developing into mesothelioma.

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What Causes Mesothelioma?

Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, and it was unfortunately common in specific industries for decades before asbestos toxicity was fully understood.

close up of asbestos tile

People who worked in construction, shipbuilding, or manufacturing industries before the 1980s may have been exposed to asbestos. This puts them at increased risk of developing mesothelioma.

If you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos in the workplace, you may be entitled to compensation if you later developed mesothelioma.

This is especially true for veterans who served in the U.S. military, as asbestos was used extensively in ships, aircraft, and other military equipment and structures.

Mesothelioma Risk Factors vs. Causes

While asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, several risk factors can increase a person’s likelihood of developing the disease.

However, It’s essential to understand the distinction between causes and risk factors.

A cause is something that directly leads to a condition, while a risk factor is something that increases the chance of developing a condition.

Known risk factors for mesothelioma include:

  • A history of asbestos exposure
  • Being male
  • Older age
  • A family history of the disease

If you have been exposed to asbestos, it’s important to be aware of the potential risk of developing mesothelioma and to seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms.

How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma: The Process

To fully understand the cause of mesothelioma, it’s important to understand how this disease develops slowly over time. It can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years after asbestos exposure for the disease to develop.

1. Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos was commonly used in various industries, including construction, shipbuilding, and automotive manufacturing, from the early 1900s through the 1980s.

Exposure to asbestos occurs when people work with or around asbestos products, such as insulation, pipes, or floor tiles.

2. Asbestos Inhalation or Ingestion

Once asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they become lodged in the mesothelium and other tissues of the body.

Over time, the fibers can cause inflammation and scarring, leading to genetic damage and mutations that can ultimately result in mesothelioma.

3. Damage to Healthy Cells

Asbestos fibers can cause a variety of changes to healthy cells, including damage to DNA and cellular structures.

This damage can prevent cells from functioning normally, leading to abnormal cell growth and the development of tumors.

4. Development of Mesothelioma

a doctor talks to an older man and his wife in their home

As tumors grow and spread, they can cause a variety of symptoms, including chest pain, shortness of breath, and coughing.

Because these changes can take decades to develop, mesothelioma is typically diagnosed 10-50 years after exposure. By then, the disease has usually progressed to an advanced stage, making treatment challenging.

Asbestos-related diseases include:

  • Malignant mesothelioma, which can affect the testicles and other parts of the body
  • Pleural mesothelioma, a thoracic cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, known as the pleura
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the peritoneum and abdomen
  • Malignant pleural mesothelioma
  • Pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the pericardium or lining of the heart

Asbestos use was widespread for decades because it is an excellent insulator and a great fireproofing material, especially considering how lightweight it is. Companies that made and supplied asbestos materials learned that asbestos exposure could lead to cancer as early as the 1930s. They chose to keep this danger a secret from the public for decades and continue earning money while thousands of people continued using their products.

You may be able to file a civil lawsuit against the companies responsible for your asbestos exposure. This allows you to pursue compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.

What Types of Asbestos Exposure Cause Mesothelioma?

Asbestos exposure can occur through inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers, which can cause damage to the lungs and other organs, leading to the risk of mesothelioma.

People who may have been exposed to asbestos could be at risk for mesothelioma in the following ways.

Workplace Asbestos Exposure

Workers who handle asbestos-containing materials or work in buildings with asbestos are at higher risk for asbestos exposure.

Occupations with higher risk include:

  • Insulators
  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Pipefitters
  • Boilermakers
  • Mechanics

Because asbestos was commonly used as insulation in buildings — and is still used in a limited capacity today — construction workers are also at a high risk of exposure. For the same reason, workers involved in demolition — or firefighters who might inhale asbestos while battling fires — are also at a higher risk.

Military Asbestos Exposure

A US battleship in port

Asbestos was commonly used in the military, particularly in the Navy, where ships were built with asbestos-containing materials.

Military veterans who served from the 1940s through the 1980s are at higher risk of developing mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure.

Cases of mesothelioma have been tied to military service positions that include:

  • Navy personnel, especially shipyard workers, boiler technicians, and pipefitters
  • Army mechanics and technicians
  • Air Force mechanics and technicians
  • Marine Corps personnel
  • Coast Guard personnel

Secondhand Asbestos Exposure

Secondhand asbestos exposure can occur when someone comes into contact with asbestos fibers through another person’s clothing, hair, or personal items.

For example, family members of workers exposed to asbestos carcinogens on the job can also be at risk of exposure.

You can experience secondhand asbestos exposure from:

  • Living or working in a building with asbestos-containing materials
  • Washing the clothes of someone who works with asbestos
  • Living near a factory that produces asbestos-containing materials
  • Working in a building that was renovated or demolished without proper asbestos abatement
  • Using or handling products that contain asbestos, such as talcum powder or home insulation

Environmental Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos can naturally be found in soil, rocks, and other materials and can be released into the air or water through natural disasters or human activities.

People who live near asbestos mines, mills, or manufacturing plants may be exposed to asbestos in the environment, increasing the risk of developing mesothelioma cancer cells.

Some types of mesothelioma can be caused by environmental exposure, such as:

  • Asbestos in soil and rocks in certain areas
  • Asbestos in the air near asbestos mines or processing facilities
  • Asbestos in old building materials, such as insulation, can contaminate the surrounding environment as they deteriorate
  • Asbestos in drinking water that has been contaminated by asbestos-containing materials in pipes or other infrastructure
  • Asbestos in consumer products, such as certain types of hair dryers or talcum powder, can release fibers into the environment during use

Steps to Prevent Mesothelioma: Asbestos Exposure Precautions

Though the use of asbestos has been banned in many countries, it is still present in some older homes, schools, and buildings.

Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from asbestos exposure.

1. Know Common Asbestos Sites and Risks

Understanding where asbestos may be present can help you avoid potential exposure. Common sites where asbestos may be present include older homes and buildings, insulation materials, roofing shingles, flooring, and car parts.

Some jobs, such as construction, auto mechanics, and shipbuilding, also carry a higher risk of asbestos exposure.

Knowing where asbestos may be present, you can minimize your exposure and reduce your risk of developing mesothelioma.

2. Take Precautions When Working With Asbestos

If you work in a job with a risk of asbestos exposure, it is essential to take proper precautions.

This may include wearing protective gear such as respirators, gloves, and coveralls and using tools and equipment that minimize the release of asbestos fibers.

Employers should also provide adequate training on safely handling and removing asbestos materials.

3. Have Homes Inspected for Asbestos

If you live in an older home or building, inspecting it for asbestos is vital.

A professional inspector can identify areas where asbestos may be present and provide recommendations for remediation or removal.

Homeowners should never attempt to remove asbestos on their own, as this can release dangerous fibers into the air.

4. Watch for Symptoms of Mesothelioma

If you have a history of asbestos exposure, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of mesothelioma.

These may include chest pain, coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. If you experience these symptoms, seeing a doctor as soon as possible is crucial.

5. Sign Petitions to Ban Asbestos

While asbestos use has been banned in many countries, it is still legal in the United States and some other nations.

By signing petitions and supporting efforts to ban asbestos, you can help raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure and protect others from its harmful effects.

Find Help for You or a Loved One With Mesothelioma

While the cause of mesothelioma is clear, many people are unaware they have been exposed to asbestos.

Unfortunately, symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear for many years after exposure, making it challenging to identify and diagnose the disease early.

However, people exposed to asbestos who have developed mesothelioma may be eligible for compensation.

This includes military service members who may be eligible for VA benefits, such as healthcare and disability benefits.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact us for a free case evaluation. Our experienced attorneys can help you understand if you have a mesothelioma case and aid you in pursuing the compensation you deserve.

FAQs About Mesothelioma Causes

What causes mesothelioma besides asbestos?

Besides asbestos exposure, no other known cause of mesothelioma has been proven in quantitative sample sizes.

However, certain mineral fibers and types of radiation therapy have been seen to have potential causal effects on the development of mesothelioma tumors in some patients.

Who is most likely to get mesothelioma?

People who have been exposed to asbestos, especially those who worked in specific industries or served in the military, are most at risk of developing mesothelioma.


How much asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma?

Cancer research has not produced a known safety level for asbestos exposure, as even small amounts can cause mesothelioma.

What are the first steps to take if I think I have mesothelioma?

If you have symptoms of mesothelioma or have been exposed to asbestos, it’s essential to find a cancer center specializing in mesothelioma as soon as possible.

A mesothelioma specialist can perform tests to diagnose and develop a treatment plan. You can even take part in clinical trials for the newest available treatments.

Consider consulting with an attorney specializing in mesothelioma cases to discuss your legal options for seeking compensation.

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ReferencesView References
  1. American Cancer Society. "Malignant Mesothelioma.” Retrieved February 16th, 2023 from
  2. American Society of Clinical Oncology. "Mesothelioma." Retrieved February 16th, 2023 from
  3. Environmental Protection Agency. “Asbestos.” Retrieved February 16th, 2023 from
  4. National Cancer Institute. “Mesothelioma Treatment.” (PDQ) Retrieved February 16th, 2023 from

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