Mesothelioma Causes

Mesothelioma is a cancer affecting the layer of tissue covering the body’s internal organs. This tissue is called the mesothelium. Exposure to asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral once used for numerous purposes, including insulation and construction, is the known cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos exposure is one of the main causes of mesothelioma in different organs of the body, including:

  • Abdominal organs
  • Heart
  • Lungs.

What Causes Mesothelioma?

A well-established connection has been found between mesothelioma and asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a fibrous material that was revered for its use as a lightweight insulator, and was used in many construction applications. However, asbestos particles can be released into the air, and accidentally inhaled or ingested. Once in the body, the particles can lead to abnormal cell growth, often resulting in long-term health complications, including mesothelioma cancer. Mesothelioma symptoms usually take decades to develop after asbestos exposure, and the disease has often reached an advanced stage by the time a diagnosis is made.

Those individuals who have had repeated exposures to asbestos (usually on the job) are at highest risk. However, even a minimal level of exposure can cause mesothelioma. Use of asbestos has declined in the past several decades, after its associated health risks were discovered. However, asbestos remains in some old buildings. Even now that it is no longer used in new constructions, workers can still be exposed to its dangers any time that asbestos is disturbed, and its fibers released into the air.

Additional Factors and Causes of Mesothelioma

There are no known causes of mesothelioma other than asbestos exposure. However, other factors may contribute to risk of developing various forms of the disease. Smoking is one of these risk factors. Though smoking alone will not cause mesothelioma, it significantly increases the risk of developing the disease in individuals with asbestos exposure. Various scientific studies have also suggested a connection between exposure to a virus called Simian Virus 40 (SV40) and increased likelihood of developing mesothelioma in asbestos-exposed individuals. However, research on this topic has yielded mixed findings.

You may also be at risk for developing mesothelioma if you live with an individual who has exposure to asbestos in the workplace. If that individual carries asbestos fibers home in his clothing or hair, those fibers may be released into the air and inhaled by other members of the household. If you have had primary or secondhand exposure to asbestos fibers, particularly if you also have additional risk factors for developing mesothelioma, you should inform your doctor. This is especially important if you are experiencing symptoms consistent with mesothelioma.

Resources

American Cancer Society Staff. (2009). What are the risk factors for malignant mesothelioma? Retrieved December 22, 2009, from the American Cancer Society Web site: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_2X_What_are_the_risk_factors_for_malignant_mesothelioma_29.asp.

Asbestos.com Staff. (n.d.). Mesothelioma. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from the Asbestos.com Web site: http://www.asbestos.com/mesothelioma/.

Brayton Purcell, LLP Staff. (n.d.). Asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from the Mesothelioma Network Web site: http://www.mesotheliomasite.com/exposure/exposure_asbestos.htm.

MesoLink Staff. (n.d.). Asbestos exposure. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from the MesoLink web site: http://www.mesolink.org/resources/asbestos-exposure.html.

Mesothelioma Web Staff. (n.d.). Mesothelioma’s cause: Asbestos exposure. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from the Mesothelioma Web Web site: http://www.mesotheliomaweb.org/cause.htm.