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Causes of Mesothelioma

What Are The Risk Factors For Mesothelioma?

Risk factors affect a person's chance of getting mesothelioma or pleural disease. Having one of the following risk factors, or even several, does not mean that someone will get cancer.
  • Asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor for mesothelioma. It accounts for up to 80 percent of all cases.
  • Living with someone who works with asbestos may also increase an individual's risk for developing mesothelioma because asbestos particles can travel on skin and clothing.
  • Radiation exposure particularly to the radioactive substance thorium dioxide, which was used with X-rays to diagnose health conditions between the 1920s and 1950s may increase the risk of developing mesothelioma.
  • A family history of mesothelioma may increase an individual's risk of developing cancer.

Where Does Asbestos Exposure Occur?

Occupational asbestos exposure is the most common cause of mesothelioma, especially within factory, construction, mining, shipbuilding, other manufacturing industries and among veterans and mechanics.

Asbestos exposure can also occur through the disturbance of asbestos-containing materials, such as when building materials begin to degrade over time or through the removal of such materials during remodeling or construction. Environmental asbestos exposure occurs when naturally occurring asbestos found in soil and rocks is released into the air through either human activity or weathering.

How Does Exposure to Asbestos Cause Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma can take anywhere between 15 to 50 years to develop after exposure to asbestos. The pleural, peritoneal and pericardial lining (mesothelium) is a protective covering for internal organs. Mesothelium is made from tissue comprised of mesothelial cells that reacts when exposed to asbestos. The asbestos fibers cause this tissue to inflame, leading to scar tissue plaques forming on the surface of the protective lining. It is within this scar tissue that malignant mesothelioma tumors begin to grow.

Pleural mesothelioma occurs when asbestos fibers are inhaled and become embedded in the protective lining of the lungs (pleura). Overtime, asbestos fibers cause inflammation and scarring within the lining that can lead to the progression of the disease.

When asbestos fibers are ingested they can develop into peritoneal mesothelioma, which forms within the abdominal lining (peritoneal lining).

An extremely rare form of the disease is pericardial mesothelioma, which develops in the membrane surrounding the heart (pericardium). Research suggests that pericardial mesothelioma forms when asbestos fibers travel through the blood stream where they then become embedded in the pericardial membrane.

Contact Penn Medicine Today

Our oncology navigators can assist you and your loved ones with questions about mesothelioma and pleural diseases; as well as scheduling appointments with our specialists. Contact us today to find out more about diagnosis and treatment options. Call 215-662-9697.