Mesothelioma causes include various forms of asbestos exposure (occupational, environmental and secondhand) and exposure to other mineral fibers, such as erionite and taconite. Typically, a single exposure to one of these carcinogens is not enough to cause mesothelioma, but several years of prolonged high-dose exposure can cause the cancer to develop.
Most mesothelioma cases are caused by occupational asbestos exposure. Until federal regulations were enacted in the 1970s, industrial workers often handled raw asbestos or asbestos-containing materials at their jobs. This was especially common for boiler workers, shipbuilders, and workers in similar blue-collar occupations. Other mesothelioma cases have been linked to environmental asbestos exposure, in which the patient came into contact with natural asbestos deposits in the ground. Secondhand asbestos exposure, in which a patient encountered asbestos on the hair, skin or clothing of a family member or other individual who had been exposed, has also contributed to a small number of cases.
Asbestos fibers are extremely thin and sharp, and can easily become trapped in the body’s internal tissues. At that point, they can cause inflammation and other damage, which can eventually lead to cancerous changes. The genetic mutations that lead to mesothelioma often occur slowly over a period of several decades, which means that people who were exposed to asbestos quite some time ago may just now be developing associated health problems.
In addition to asbestos exposure, several other mesothelioma causes have been identified, although these account for a very small number of cases. These include:
Radiation exposure, particularly when the radiation was directed to the chest
Simian virus 40 (SV40), a virus that contaminated a small number of polio vaccines in the 1950s and 1960s
Chest injuries and chronic inflammation
Smoking is not one of the known mesothelioma causes, but a history of tobacco use can increase the risk of someone who has been exposed to one of the other mesothelioma-causing carcinogens.
To learn more about the causes of mesothelioma or to make an appointment with Moffitt Cancer Center’s experienced mesothelioma team, call 1-888-MOFFITT today. We don’t require a referral; you can schedule an appointment by completing our online new patient registration form.