Since the 1960s, doctors have known that Mesothelioma is linked to exposure to asbestos. Sadly, the number of cases of Mesothelioma may rise in the coming years due to the heavy use of asbestos in industry in the 1950s and 1960s.
About 70-80% of persons diagnosed with Mesothelioma say they have been exposed to asbestos. The risks increase if the patient was exposed to large amounts of asbestos from a young age or for an extended period of time.
What is Asbestos? Asbestos is comprised of a collection of naturally occurring minerals in which combine into fibrous material that is heat and fire resistant. There are three kinds of asbestos: blue, brown and white. Blue and brown asbestos have been connected with Mesothelioma. Historically, asbestos was used widely in construction, ship building and household appliances. It can be found in old cement, roof shingles, flooring products, brake linings, textiles, and insulation. When disturbed, especially in the manufacturing process, small particles can end up airborne, and can be inhaled or swallowed.
When inhaled, Asbestos particles can find their way into the pleura lining the lung. They irritate the pleura and damage the cells that the pleura likely contributing to Pleural Mesothelioma. When the particles are breathed in, and then coughed up and swallowed they can be instrumental in causing Peritoneal Mesothelioma.
Asbestos particles can be transported on clothes and studies have indicted that family members of those exposed to asbestos have a higher likelihood of developing Mesothelioma. Asbestos also increases the risk of lung cancer, asbestosis (noncancerous lung disease), and other forms of cancer.
Does smoking contribute to the risk of Mesothelioma? Apparently not, however in combination with asbestos exposure chances are increased for other cancers.
Other less prevalent possible causes of Mesothelioma are:
- A radiation called thorium dioxide (Thorotast) which was used until the 1950's in some X-ray tests.
- A mineral called Zeolite in which is rare in today’s workplace.
- There has been some disputed findings that a virus called SV40 (ie 'simian virus 40') can cause Mesothelioma. Most scientists think that it is possible that SV40 may help to increase risk for those exposed to another more major risk factor.