Mesothelioma is a cancer that occurs in the mesothelium, a thin membrane encompassing the body’s internal organs and cavities. Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers that are inhaled through the mouth and nose may eventually become embedded in the lining of the lungs, causing harmful inflammation of the pleura and resulting in mesothelioma or asbestosis (scar tissue formation in the lungs). It has also been found that swallowing asbestos fibers could contribute to a form of the malignancy originating in the abdomen known as peritoneal mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma generally results from occupational asbestos exposure but there are instances of environmental exposure that can also cause the disease. Oftentimes a family member can be affected indirectly by second hand exposure from an asbestos worker’s soiled work clothes.
Asbestos was an effective insulation material. It was used liberally in commercial and industrial products in the United States until being regulated in a joint effort between the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency in 1989. Occupational exposure was common among workers who encountered these products in many industries including shipbuilding, power plants, and other industrial settings.
Asbestos insulation workers appear to have the highest rate of asbestos related disease. One study reports that almost six percent of asbestos workers fall victim to mesothelioma or experience respiratory symptoms. Asbestos insulation workers are over 300 times more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma than those with no exposure history.
What are the risk factors for malignant mesothelioma?
There are several risk factors that increase the likelihood that a person will develop mesothelioma. The primary risk factor is asbestos exposure.
Exposure to this very harmful substance can significantly enhance the
chances of contracting the disease. Smoking does not have a direct
causal relationship with mesothelioma but is a significant compounding
factor and increases the chances of developing the disease. Other less
common secondary factors include exposure to radiation, zeolite, simian
virus 40 (SV40) and erionite. We discuss each of these risk factors in
more detail below. Please click on the links to learn more about each
mesothelioma risk factor.
Exposure to asbestos is the leading risk factor associated with
mesothelioma. Asbestos is an insulating material comprised of
magnesium-silicate mineral fibers. It was favored by builders and
contractors for many years for its low heat conductivity and resistance
to melting and burning. Since researchers have identified more and more
links between mesothelioma and exposure to asbestos, the material is now
less widely used. Prior to this discovery, however, millions of
Americans have experienced serious exposure to this harmful substance.
How long does it take for mesothelioma symptoms to appear?
One of the most unique facts about mesothelioma is that the disease
is characterized by a long latency period that is very often associated
with the disease. The latency period is the amount of time that elapses
from the first point of asbestos exposure to the point where symptoms
begin to appear so that a diagnosis can be made. In some mesothelioma
cases the latency period
is reported to be 10 years but the average latency for the majority of
cases is between 35 and 40 years. As a result, the cancer often
progresses to later stages
before a diagnosis is made. When diagnosed in the later stages,
mesothelioma treatment options become more limited and are less