How Do People Get or Develop Mesothelioma?

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Mesothelioma is a devastating cancer of the lung linings that is almost always terminal. The five year survival rate is in the single digits. However, mesothelioma is different from lung cancer and its causes are different.

Mesothelioma was almost unknown until the early 1900s. After decades of studying the disease, researchers discovered the cause. Below is more information about how people get this terrible cancer.

Mesothelioma is caused almost exclusively by inhaling asbestos. When tiny asbestos fibers get stuck in the lining of the lungs, or pleura, they can cause dramatic genetic changes over the decades, which can cause the development of cancer cells. The more people are exposed to asbestos, the higher the chance of developing mesothelioma. (

Research has confirmed that inhaling or swallowing tiny asbestos fibers can lead to a chain reaction that causes mesothelioma and other types of cancer. The toxic dust also can cause asbestosis, which is a serious and incurable breathing disorder.

However, research still has not shown exactly how asbestos causes the major genetic changes that lead to tumor development. There are several theories about the process of how asbestos leads to mesothelioma:

  • The tiny and needle-like shape of the mineral may prevent immune system cells from getting the fibers out of the lungs. Cells in the lining of the lungs absorb the dangerous fibers, and this may interfere with the normal division of cells.
  • The inhaled asbestos fibers may irritate the mesothelial cells, and this can lead to swelling. This can cause damage to cells and the development of tumors.
  • Asbestos fibers could cause the production of special molecules that cause damage to DNA and disrupt the reproduction of cells. This damage may cause tumors to form.
  • Asbestos fibers could also cause proteins to develop that may mutate mesothelial cells into cancer cells.

No matter how asbestos leads to mesothelioma, the symptoms of the disease do not normally begin to manifest for several decades. One of the problems is the symptoms of stage 4 mesothelioma are mistaken for less serious illnesses. By the time the cancer is discovered, it is in the later stages and is a terminal illness.

Types of Mesothelioma

There are three major types of mesothelioma. In each case after asbestos exposure, abnormal cells start to grow in the mesothelium, which is a thin layer of cells around the major organs, including the lungs, heart, intestines, stomach, and testicles. (

Types of Asbestos Exposure

There are a few ways that people can be exposed to asbestos and then get mesothelioma:


Some workers were exposed to deadly asbestos-containing materials at their jobs. It is estimated that 75% of all mesothelioma cases are related to work. Workers for many years dealt directly with the installation and manufacture of products that contained asbestos, including insulation, have the greatest risk of developing the disease. Manufacturers ceased the mass production of asbestos products in the 1980s, so most workers today are at lower risk. But workers who were exposed in the 70s and 80s could still be at risk because it can take 40 years for mesothelioma to develop.

Many companies knew full well they were exposing their workers to asbestos and continued to do it anyway. The largest companies have been compelled to establish asbestos trust funds to help former employees to pay for their treatment.

Occupations that have the highest risk of mesothelioma are:


Mesothelioma also can develop in those who have not been directly exposed to materials that contain asbestos. Workers exposed to the deadly substance often brought asbestos home with them on their clothes, shoes, skin and hair. The smallest movement releases the tiny fibers into the air where they can be inhaled by anyone nearby.

Sadly, the dangers of secondhand asbestos exposure were not fully understood until the 1980s. There are many cases of loved ones who have died from mesothelioma and never set foot in a facility that worked with asbestos.


Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. The mining of asbestos, as well as other minerals, such as talcum powder, can release asbestos fibers into the air. This can affect both workers and residents who live nearby. Some asbestos deposits are very close to the earth’s surface. When the deposits are disturbed, it is very easy for the fibers to be released into the air. Asbestos deposits can even be disturbed by vehicle traffic.

Risk Factors for Mesothelioma

We know asbestos is the major cause of mesothelioma, but there are other factors that can boost the chances of getting the disease. Some factors could even cause mesothelioma without being exposed to the toxic substance: (

  • Age: People who are older have a higher chance of being diagnosed with the disease because of the amount of time the symptoms of the disease take to show up. Two-thirds of the people diagnosed with the disease are 65 or older.
  • Gender: Mesothelioma occurs more often in men than in women. Research has not shown exactly why, but the higher risk could be related to the sort of labor that men do. Their jobs usually are more likely to involve asbestos exposure.
  • SV40: In the 1960s, some polio vaccines were contaminated with SV40, a virus that affects apes and monkeys. Approximately 60% of the US population had been treated with the vaccine before it was taken off the market.
  • Erionite: This is a fiber that occurs naturally and also is linked to mesothelioma. It is similar in structure to crocidolite, which is another form of asbestos. Erionite has been used a lot in Turkey for construction purposes, and many workers there developed mesothelioma. Death rate studies in Turkey showed that 25% of deaths that happened over four years were from mesothelioma.
  • Vermiculite: This is another mineral that is often contaminated with asbestos.
  • Taconite: This is a rock that is used to make steel products. It has been connected to many diagnoses of mesothelioma.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it may have been caused by asbestos exposure due to the negligence of a company or organization. Have your case examined by a mesothelioma attorney near you to determine your legal options.