Causes of Mesothelioma | Risk Factors and Prevention of Mesothelioma

It is both popularly and scientifically known that one of the major causes of Mesothelioma cancer is the inhaling or ingestion of Asbestos fibers. The asbestos fibers find places to lodge in the lining of major internal organs of the body such as; lungs, the abdomen, and the heart. The cancerous fibers cause inflammation of the heart. Exposure to Asbestos may lead to the development of Mesothelioma cancer over time.

Causes of Mesothelioma | Risk Factors and Prevention of Mesothelioma
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What is the Major Cause of the Mesothelioma?

The most common known cause of mesothelioma is the Asbestos fibers. Research has shown that all known types of Asbestos are cancerous in nature. At least 90% of all mesothelioma cases are as a result of Asbestos Exposure.

Once the asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can then get embedded in the lining of the lungs, abdominal cavity, or the heart of an individual. Once they are embedded, the cancerous fibers then cause inflammation and scarring that can eventually lead to mesothelioma tumors. This inhaling of the asbestos fibers can also cause other asbestos related diseases like Asbestosis.

In addition to the inflammation and scarring that brings about the mesothelioma tumors, the fibers can also cause indirect and direct DNA damage.

DNA Damages caused by Asbestos includes:

Indirect Damages

  • Asbestos can cause dangerous gases to be released by immune cells, which in turn increases inflammation and promotes ling fibrosis.
  • This inflammation can then lead to DNA damage and cancer over time.

Direct Damages

  • The Asbestos fibers interferes with cell division.
  • Cellular damage can then be caused by this interference.
  • As a result, cancerous mutation may occur, based on the cellular changes.

The location of the embedded fibers and damaged DNA is what determines the kind of Mesothelioma that develops.

The Pleural Mesothelioma is the one that develops in the lining of the lungs and chest wall. Peritoneal Mesothelioma is the one that develops in the lining of the abdomen. And the Pericardial Mesothelioma is the one that develops in the lining of the heart.

Following the asbestos exposure, it often takes 10 – 50 years for patients to exhibit the symptoms of Mesothelioma.

How does one get Mesothelioma?

Research has shown that Asbestos exposure is usually most common in the workplace. However, exposure may also occur through other natural asbestos in the immediate environment or secondary exposure.

Occupational Exposure to the Asbestos

High risk occupations that could lead to Asbestos exposure include:

  • Oil refinery workers
  • Fire fighters
  • Insulation installers
  • Power plant workers
  • Auto mechanics
  • Factor Machine operators and workers
  • Carpentry, Roofing and floor installers
  • Rail-road workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Asbestos miners etc…

The regulations on asbestos have increased in recent years, helping to restrict the use of carcinogen. However, because of the wide use in the past, workplace exposure is still a concern. Fire-fighters and construction workers are among those with a high risk of asbestos contact. When working in older homes or schools, these men and women may encounter asbestos.

Non-occupational Exposure to the Asbestos

Based on past occurrence, exposure has been seen to also occur from the natural environment, asbestos products, or secondary contact with loved ones.

Second-hand exposure to the asbestos fibers commonly occurs when the fibers are brought back home on the hair, skin, or clothing of a worker.

This exposure to asbestos may also even occur among individuals with no connection whatsoever to asbestos workers. The carcinogen has been found in several household items and homes, and this may also lead to dangerous exposure.

When performing do-it-yourself home remodeling projects, home owners may experience asbestos exposure. Asbestos-containing construction materials are most likely to have been used in the construction of homes that were built prior to 1980.

Trace amounts of the mineral have also been found in household products like potting soil, talcum powder, and paint. Recently, makeup brands for children have come under fire for selling makeup products that contained asbestos-contaminated talcum powder.

Risk Factors involved with Mesothelioma

Research has shown that around 90% of all mesothelioma cases are as a result of asbestos exposure. However, indications also show that there are other factors that may lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Some of these risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Erionite
  • Radiation
  • Simian virus 40
  • Gender
  • Advanced age
  • Presence of BAP1 gene
  • Overall poor health
  • High aspect ratio Nanoparticles

Note that, while a risk factor is something that increases the chance of developing a disease, a cause is something that leads directly to triggering the disease.

Risk among the Elderly

A common misconception people seem to have about mesothelioma is that it only develops in the elderly. Studies have shown that though 91% of patients diagnosed with this illness are 55 years old and above, younger patients have also been diagnosed as well. There were 4,827 mesothelioma diagnoses in patients under 55 years of age between 1999 and 2016, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The long latency period associated with the disease is the major reason for the elevated risk among older individuals. Studies and research also continue to examine a potential relationship between the genetics of young adults and their mesothelioma risk. Results from this research could bring about more early diagnoses, changing the age related statistics of the disease.

Risk in Patients having the BAP1 Gene

The BAP1 gene is a type of gene that suppresses tumors. The likelihood of developing a tumor in increased when such gene is being mutated. Individuals with this genetic mutation, who are exposed to asbestos, may be more susceptible to developing mesothelioma. Histological testing will help to discover the presence of this mutated gene.

60% of mesothelioma patients are identified as having this genetic mutation in them, according to research from Fox Chase Cancer Center. Studies also show that patients with this genetic mutation tend to be diagnosed at a younger age than those without such genetic mutation. In addition, it was also discovered that patients with the genetic mutation had more favorable survival times than the other patients. The mesothelioma cases were largely Peritoneal Mesothelioma and the epithelioid cell type in the patients that were studied.

Greater Incidence of Mesothelioma among Men

There is a higher incidence of the disease among men, although it is not a gender-specific cancer. The correlation may as well be due to the dominance of the male gender in asbestos occupations.

For example, in the past there were more men working in high risk occupation and areas, such as shipyards and asbestos mines. However, in more recent times, higher rates of occupational and secondary asbestos exposure have been seen to occur among women. Based on research and findings, mesothelioma incidence among women is on the rise.

Risk Factors for Malignant Mesothelioma based on Lifestyle

Poor Health and Disease

Generally, having poor health conditions result in increased chances of developing any disease, including mesothelioma. In addition, with the immune system being weakened, there is a hindrance to the body’s ability to fight the side effects of mesothelioma and the cancer itself.

Poor health may reduce viable treatment options for those already diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Can smoking lead to Mesothelioma?

The relationship between smoking and mesothelioma has not yet been proven by research. However, there is a well-established relationship between smoking, lung disease and other various forms of cancer. The link between smoking and mesothelioma is still being examined by scientific studies.

There is currently only just little evidence that smoking alone can increase a person’s chance of developing mesothelioma. However, many studies have shown that smokers are 50 – 90% more likely to contract asbestos-related lung cancer. Similarly, smokers with asbestos exposure are twice as likely to develop mesothelioma as well.

It is very possible that smoking makes it very easy for Asbestos to get embedded in the lungs and lead to cancer, according to research.

Major changes that occur in the lungs due to smoking are:

  1. Weakening of the tissues in the lung: When the tissue of the lung is damaged, Asbestos fibers can more easily get lodged in the linings therein.
  2. Overall decrease in health: Many medical issues can come up as a result of smoking. Poor overall health condition can limit the mesothelioma treatment options of a patient, and his or her life expectancy as well.
  3. Increase in production of mucus: The irritation of the passages of air causes them to produce more mucus. These mucus blocks the passage of air and affects the ability of the lung the cleanse itself.

Asbestos and Cigarette filters

There are thousands of chemicals contained in cigarettes. At least several dozens of these chemicals are carcinogens, according to International Agency for Research of Cancer (IARC). In a bid to make cigarettes healthier, some brands add filters with the intention to remove some portion of these substances. However, the effectiveness of these filters continues to be disputed by researchers.

Studies have shown that even filters have presented their own dangers, as at least one brand of cigarette contained asbestos filters. The Kent cigarette filters were seen to be comprised of as much as 25% asbestos. These cigarettes were in sales in the U.S between 1952 and 1956, with up to half a million sold every day. It is possible some other cigarette brands contain the mineral, although Kent is the only brand that was confirmed.

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Other Risk Factors on Mesothelioma

The following factors have been noted in a handful of studies as potential risk factors for mesothelioma, in addition to the ones discussed above. Though these ones still require additional research before causation can be confirmed.


This is a mineral material that occurs naturally and often found is volcanic ash. It has been studied and noted for mesothelioma risk. The mineral contains fibers that have similar chemical formula to that of asbestos. Evidence points to an especially strong connection in regions where Erionite exposure occurs within the natural environment, such as Turkey.

Radiation Exposure

There is an unclear history of asbestos exposure among some malignant mesothelioma patients. A few studies have pointed out radiation exposure as a possible cause of some of these cases. Although a secondary potential factor for mesothelioma is the radiation therapy, there are limited reports supporting this connection.

Simian virus 40

In just a few cases of occurrence, the Simian virus 40 (SV40) has been linked to mesothelioma. Between 1955 and 1963, around 30 million Americans were administered contaminated polio vaccines, and this is where this virus stems from. Though further investigation is needed, studies have shown a correlation between those who have the virus and development of mesothelioma.

High aspect ratio Nanoparticles

Mesothelioma is suggestively linked with High Aspect Rate Nanoparticles (HARNs). HARNs refers to nanoparticles that have length that is man times longer than their width. Studies have proven these particles to be very harmful to human health. Just like other non-Asbestos causes of mesothelioma, evidence on this is lacking, and it requires more research.

Prevention of Mesothelioma

The most effective way to prevent mesothelioma remains the avoiding of asbestos exposure. However, in the United States, Asbestos is not yet banned. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in a bid to protect public health, has put regulations in place for the use of Asbestos.

Past uses of asbestos continue to pose a health risk, although progress is being made. Removal of materials and products containing asbestos professionally is essential to the disease prevention.

Individuals should speak with their healthcare team and monitor for any symptoms of mesothelioma, such as weight loss, shortness of breath and chest pain, if asbestos exposure is suspected. However, because mesothelioma takes decades before manifesting any symptoms, it is difficult to identify exposure.

A key factor that helps to improve Mesothelioma life expectancy in a patient is to monitor for symptoms, in order to enable early intervention.

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