The inhalation of asbestos fibers is the primary cause of mesothelioma. These invisible fibers can get stuck in the lining of the abdomen and lungs, causing genetic damage to the cells and eventually developing into cancer. Asbestos exposure is almost always the cause of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma usually develops 10-40 years after exposure to asbestos, but not everyone who is exposed gets the disease. Pleural mesothelioma in the lungs is the most common form, with about 80% of cases of this variety.
When asbestos fibers go to other parts of the body, it can cause other types of mesothelioma. For instance, pleural mesothelioma happens when fibers get stuck in the pleura, and the peritoneal type is caused when the fibers get stuck in the stomach lining.
Most people who get mesothelioma were exposed to various blue-collar jobs. Others served in the military. It is estimated that 80% of people with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos.
Mesothelioma was almost unknown until the 20th century when industries discovered the heat and chemical-resistant properties of asbestos.
Major Risk Factors for Developing Mesothelioma
- Working in an asbestos mine or a plant that processed asbestos
- Working in construction or heavy industry
- Working on military ships or in military facilities with products that have asbestos
- Living in an area that is near a site contaminated with asbestos
- Disturbing materials with asbestos while doing a home renovation or commercial building renovation
Where Asbestos Exposure Occurs
Most asbestos exposure happens in the workplace. It also can happen in the home or in nature. Asbestos was often used in many commercial, industrial, and domestic products. Some common examples are drywall, drywall compound, piping, insulation, glues and adhesives, ceiling tiles, shingles, and cement.
Employees who used or manufactured these products were often exposed to asbestos during their work. Some of their family members may have had secondary asbestos exposure at home. Environmental exposure can occur in areas that processed or mined the dangerous mineral.
Occupational Exposure in the Past
People with the highest risk of mesothelioma are workers who dealt with the raw mineral or with products that contained asbestos:
- Shipyard workers
- Construction workers
- Power plant workers
- Chemical plant workers
- Industrial workers
- Boiler workers
- Auto mechanics
Present-Day Job Risks
There still are risks of asbestos exposure today that can cause mesothelioma. For example, construction tradesmen and firefighters may be exposed to asbestos while they are working on older homes and buildings with asbestos materials. Exposure often happens during demolition, renovation, or disaster response.
When older buildings are torn down without proper safety standards, airborne asbestos fibers can be breathed in by anyone in the area. Even today, new buildings can contain asbestos, such as roof tiles.
Also, firefighters, contractors, demolition workers, plumbers, and electricians are at higher risk of asbestos exposure.
Secondhand Asbestos Exposure
At the height of the asbestos industry, workers’ families also were at high risk of asbestos exposure. Workers could come home with asbestos on their clothes, hair, shoes, and tools. Family members were exposed to high levels of asbestos. There have been asbestos lawsuits involving secondary exposure that resulted in large settlements.
SEE ALSO: Lawsuit for Secondary Asbestos Exposure
In recent years, there has been a growing body of evidence that exposure to talcum powder that contains small levels of asbestos could lead to cancer. Johnson & Johnson have been under considerable legal fire for several years under allegations that some of their baby powder contained asbestos and caused cases of mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.
For example, a jury in New Jersey recently ordered J&J to pay $750 million to four plaintiffs in a lawsuit where they alleged that J&J baby powder caused their asbestos cancer. (USAToday.com). This case is just the latest of thousands of lawsuits that allege talcum powder can cause mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.
In another case last year, J&J was ordered to pay $37.2 million to four consumers who blamed their mesothelioma on J&J’s baby powder. (News.Bloomberglaw.com)
Environmental Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos occurs naturally in many states, so people who live near large deposits in hilly regions can face exposure. The most danger is for those who live near old asbestos mines.
SEE ALSO: Mesothelioma Cancer Not Caused by Asbestos Exposure
How Mesothelioma Develops
Mesothelioma usually develops from DNA damage caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. Once the fibers are inhaled or swallowed, the body has a difficult time getting rid of the tough, durable material. The fibers get stuck in tissues and accumulate over years of exposure. After many years, these fibers can cause some cells to die. The problem occurs when some cells do not die, but their DNA changes and they start to make cells in an out of control fashion, which is cancer.
Mesothelioma begins in the mesothelial cells, which are part of the protective membranes around the lungs, abdomen, and heart. (Mayoclinic.org)
Asbestos fibers cause DNA damage in these ways:
- Inflamed cells: Fibers irritate and inflame mesothelial cells, which lead to scarring, cellular damage, and cancer.
- Genetic changes: fibers get into the mesothelial cells and change their life cycle, which can lead to genetic damage and cancer.
- Cancerous mutations: Asbestos exposure may cause the production of free radicals, which can damage DNA and make healthy cells mutate.
- Uncontrolled cell growth: Asbestos fibers trigger oncoprotein production. These block the genes that protect cells from forming tumors.
Some of the other ways you may get mesothelioma are:
- Being exposed to other fibrous minerals, including erionite
- Radiation exposure
- Getting a polio vaccine from 1955 to 1963 that had simian virus 40 in it
- Various genetic factors that boost the odds of getting cancer
Mesothelioma Causes and Risk Factors
A risk factor is something that boosts the chances of getting a disease. A cause is a contributing factor that leads to the disease.
For instance, while men are more likely to get mesothelioma than women, gender by itself does not cause mesothelioma.
There are often several risk factors involved in the development of asbestos cancer. For example, the duration of exposure is a risk factor. It is said that no amount of asbestos exposure is safe, according to the WHO. However, heavy, regular exposure to asbestos is usually what causes mesothelioma. Still, not everyone who is heavily exposed will get mesothelioma.
According to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the longer you work in a job with asbestos exposure, the greater your risk: (OUP.com)
- One to seven years of exposure – 1.7 times more likely
- Eight to 19 years of exposure – 2 times more likely
- 20+ years of exposure – 5.4 times more likely
Note that smoking is NOT a risk factor for getting mesothelioma. But if you smoke and are exposed to asbestos, you are more likely to get cancer.
Get Mesothelioma Legal Help Immediately
With over $30 billion available for victims through the Asbestos Trust Funds, you could be entitled to financial compensations without ever filing a lawsuit? Mesothelioma & Lung Cancer victims qualify immediately. Complete the form or call us toll-free (800) 352-0871