Mesothelioma Risk Factors

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that forms in the thin tissue that lines several organs in the body (mesothelium). A mesothelioma risk factor describes a characteristic or behavior that can increase a person’s chance of being diagnosed with this cancer. While the presence of mesothelioma risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual will develop this condition, people who have them should be particularly mindful of changes in their health and notify a physician if they notice any unusual symptoms

Asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor for mesothelioma.

Asbestos exposure & mesothelioma risk

Asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor for mesothelioma. This cancer has a long latency period, so people who were exposed to asbestos several decades ago may just now be experiencing health problems.  

There are several ways in which a person may be exposed to asbestos:

  • Environmental asbestos exposure – People can be exposed to naturally occurring asbestos deposits in the ground, especially in hilly, mountainous areas such as Libby, Montana, and California’s El Dorado County.
  • Secondhand asbestos exposure – This refers to exposure to asbestos on the hair, clothing or skin of a person who encountered asbestos elsewhere.
  • Occupational asbestos exposure – Many industrial occupations involve exposure to raw asbestos fibers or asbestos-containing materials.

Occupational Risk Factors

Occupational asbestos exposure is the biggest factor behind asbestos-related mesothelioma. In fact, asbestos exposure is the top cause of work-related deaths worldwide. Pivotal regulations introduced in the 1970s and 1980s have significantly reduced the risk of mesothelioma among most workers, but several occupations still carry some measure of risk.

Employees in high-risk occupations include:

  • Construction workers – Many flooring and roofing products still contain asbestos. Demolition crews and home remodelers are considered to have the highest risk.
  • Firefighters – Firefighters are more than twice as likely to develop mesothelioma than the rest of the population, as they are often exposed to high asbestos levels while responding to fires and other natural disasters.
  • Power plant workers – Working with old pipes and fireproofing materials can expose power plant workers to high levels of asbestos. One study found 33% of power plant workers had mucus that contained asbestos.
  • S. Navy veterans – In the 1900s, asbestos was often used to build naval ships. This exposed many sailors and shipbuilders to dangerous levels of asbestos. Shipbuilders outside of the navy are also at an increased risk of mesothelioma.
  • Industrial workers – Workers such as mechanics, machinery operators and chemical workers may frequently come into contact with new products and materials that contain legal levels of asbestos.

Other mesothelioma risk factors

Men, especially those over the age of 65, are considered to be at a higher risk for mesothelioma. However, that’s not because age and gender are direct mesothelioma risk factors, but rather because men are more likely to have worked in asbestos-contaminated worksites than women, and because most exposures occurred prior to regulatory action from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the 1980s.

Aside from asbestos exposure, several other risk factors are also associated with mesothelioma. Exposure to radiation (especially radiation that was directed at the chest), SV40 virus and non-asbestos mineral fibers (such as erionite and taconite) can also increase a person’s risk of developing the disease.

Moffitt’s approach to mesothelioma

At Moffitt Cancer Center’s Mesothelioma Research and Treatment Center, our multispecialty team can assess your risk of developing mesothelioma and provide additional information about mesothelioma risk factors and screening methods. No referral is necessary to meet with one of our specialists.

Call Moffitt at 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online to set up an appointment. As Florida’s No. 1 cancer hospital, we’re improving access to world-class care by connecting patients with cancer specialists in less than 24 hours after contact.

References Occupational Asbestos Exposure