What Causes Mesothelioma?
Asbestos exposure is the leading cause of mesothelioma. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, 8 out of 10 mesothelioma patients were exposed to asbestos at some point.
Unfortunately, for most patients, the asbestos exposure that caused their mesothelioma occurred on the job or while they bravely served in the U.S. military.
Since asbestos fibers are microscopic, people exposed to this deadly mineral are usually unaware of it.
When these tiny fibers are inhaled or ingested, they become inflamed and cause scarring, damaging the DNA of healthy cells and causing uncontrolled cell growth. Over time, a person may develop mesothelioma, which is often not diagnosed until it is too late.
Depending on where in the body the asbestos fibers travel, a person may develop a different type of cancer, based on where the mesothelial cells grow.
“It is difficult to tell when asbestos is in the air. The tiny fibers have no odor or taste, and they do not irritate your eyes or throat or make your skin itch.”
— American Lung Association
Pleural Mesothelioma Causes
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of mesothelioma, accounting for up to 85% of cases. Of these, the vast majority are believed to be caused by asbestos exposure.
Malignant pleural mesothelioma affects the tissues surrounding the lining of the lungs, called the pleura. This type of mesothelioma is believed to be caused by breathing in asbestos fibers that travel to the ends of air passages, causing cancer cells to form in the chest wall over time.
Pleural mesothelioma usually affects men, and over half of those diagnosed are over 70 years old. The disease often manifests at first as shortness of breath or chest pain.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Causes
Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the lining of the abdomen, which is called the peritoneum. Swallowing asbestos fibers is often the cause of peritoneal mesothelioma.
According to the American Cancer Society, asbestos fibers swallowed can travel to the abdominal lining, which can develop into cancer over time.
Since the symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are usually difficult to notice, by the time it is diagnosed, the cancer may have already spread. While early symptoms often go unnoticed, later-stage symptoms include abdominal swelling, vomiting, and bowel obstruction.
This form of the disease is more common in women than in men.
Pericardial Mesothelioma Causes
Pericardial mesothelioma affects the tissues around the heart, or pericardium. As with other forms of mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma is believed to be caused by asbestos exposure.
While it is not always clear what causes mesothelioma in some people and not others, some factors, such as a genetic predisposition for developing cancer, may contribute.
Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma may include trouble breathing and chest pain.
Testicular Mesothelioma Causes
Testicular mesothelioma is among the rarest forms of the disease, affecting the tissue around the testicles. It is believed to be caused by asbestos exposure in about 40% of cases.
This mesothelioma tends to affect men between 55-75 years old.
How Much Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma?
There is no safe amount of asbestos exposure, but the risk of developing mesothelioma increases with exposure to higher levels of the deadly material, as well as repeated exposure over time.
“The risk of development is related to the extent and length of exposure. People exposed to asbestos at an early age, for a long period of time, and at higher levels are more likely to develop the cancer.”
— National Cancer Institute
While the most common cause of mesothelioma is primary exposure, it is possible to be exposed to asbestos secondhand — for example, by hugging a loved one covered in asbestos fibers.
Factors that may affect whether asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma are:
- Amount and duration of asbestos exposure
- Genetic factors
- Other risk factors, such as smoking
- Shape, size, and chemical makeup of the asbestos fibers
- Source of the exposure (firsthand vs. secondhand)
The length of time between exposure and diagnosis complicates knowing how much exposure to asbestos will cause cancer. Decades can pass without a person having side effects or even knowing they were exposed to the deadly material.
This is because when asbestos dust is inhaled or swallowed, the fibers settle in the lungs or other organs, undetected yet trapped in the body. Most people exposed to asbestos will not develop mesothelioma, but others will. Tragically, only time will tell.
Does Smoking Cause Mesothelioma?
Smoking alone will not cause mesothelioma, but it can raise the risk of developing the condition if asbestos exposure has already occurred. Studies have shown that the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease increases by up to 80% in people who smoke.
This is believed to be due to how asbestos and tobacco interact to irritate the lungs. Since smoking weakens lung tissues, asbestos fibers can more easily become trapped in the lungs. Additionally, smoking increases the amount of mucus, which can impair the body’s ability to maintain healthy lung tissue.
What Causes Mesothelioma Other Than Asbestos?
While some studies suggest genetics may play a role in developing mesothelioma, asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma.
Other factors that may contribute to mesothelioma causes include:
- Family history of mesothelioma
- Genetic predisposition to cancer
- Living with someone who works with asbestos
- Past radiation therapy to the chest
Though most people exposed to asbestos will never develop mesothelioma, the fact remains that most people who develop the disease were exposed.
What Type of Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma?
There is debate over what type of asbestos causes mesothelioma, usually between the companies that continue to mine it and the health care professionals who warn of its dangers.
According to some companies, non-friable asbestos products are safe, but health care professionals say that any asbestos use is dangerous.
There are six types of asbestos:
Actinolite asbestos is dark in color and has sharp fibers. When these fibers are released into the air, they are easily inhaled. This type of asbestos was used in cement, drywall, and insulation materials.
Amosite asbestos, also called brown asbestos, is believed to be one of the most dangerous types of asbestos. It is sadly also the second-most commonly used type of asbestos in the United States. Brown asbestos was used in cement, fire protection products, gaskets, and tiles. It is commonly found in plumbing, roofing, and electrical work.
Anthophyllite asbestos can be yellowish to brown and is a more rare form of asbestos. It was not used in many consumer products but can be found in insulation and cement.
Chrysotile asbestos is the most commonly used type of asbestos. It makes up about 90% of all asbestos that’s been used in America’s buildings.
Other products that are made with chrysotile asbestos include:
- Brake pads and brake linings
- Disc pads
- Roofing materials
Chrysotile asbestos is widely used because it is heat-resistant and can also be woven to make fabric.
Crocidolite asbestos, or blue asbestos, is believed to be one of the most dangerous types of asbestos. Its fibers are extremely fine and sharp, which makes them especially easy to inhale.
Studies show that blue asbestos may cause more asbestos-related diseases than all other types. Since it is not as resistant to heat as other types, it was not used in many commercial products besides cement, tiles, and insulation.
Tremolite asbestos is valued for its heat resistance; it can also be woven into fabric. Tremolite asbestos is no longer mined because it is responsible for causing a high percentage of all cases of asbestos-related cancer. When used, it could be found in many products, such as paint, plumbing materials, insulation, roofing, and sealants.
Who Is Most at Risk for Mesothelioma?
Those at the greatest risk of developing mesothelioma are people whose jobs involve frequent asbestos exposure. Tragically, their families may also be at risk due to secondary (or take-home) exposure to asbestos.
“Family members of people exposed to asbestos at work can also be exposed because the workers can carry home asbestos fibers on their clothes.”
— American Cancer Society
While undisturbed asbestos is not considered deadly, the fibers can be inhaled or swallowed when it’s broken up. Asbestos gets disturbed during mining, manufacturing, and construction or demolition. It can also happen naturally, as older buildings and other structures suffer wear and tear. Unfortunately, these situations often occur for many victims on the job.
Occupations that may put people at risk for mesothelioma include:
- 9/11 first responders
- Automotive workers
- Construction workers
- Factory workers
- Gas mask manufacturers
- Railroad workers
- Shipbuilders and other shipyard workers
Additionally, over 30% of mesothelioma patients are military veterans or active military service members. Mesothelioma is especially common among those who served in the U.S. Navy.
What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?
Symptoms of mesothelioma often go unnoticed until the cancer has already spread. They may also vary depending on where the cancer occurs.
Some common signs and symptoms of mesothelioma are:
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Chest pain
- Painful coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unusual lumps under the skin
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, you should consult with your doctor right away. It’s important to tell your health care provider about any asbestos exposure (or suspected exposure) you’ve experienced, even decades ago.
Unfortunately, stopping asbestos exposure does not eliminate the risk of mesothelioma. Once asbestos fibers are in the body, they remain there forever and could develop into an asbestos-related disease at some point.
What Financial Help Is Available to People With Mesothelioma?
If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you should contact an experienced mesothelioma law firm to see if you qualify for compensation through a lawsuit or an asbestos trust fund.
Mesothelioma treatment – including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, and/or surgery – can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The disease also forces many patients to stop working, creating a perfect storm for financial devastation.
A mesothelioma attorney may be able to help you get the compensation you need to secure your family’s future.
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