Mesothelioma Risk Factors

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that affects the lining tissues of organs in the body including the abdomen, the lungs, and the heart. It believed to be caused by asbestos, a mineral substance that once contaminated countless homes and businesses in the US in the form of heat protecting and insulation materials. The construction boom that followed after the WWII saw asbestos become a key material for use in industrial and household products such as wiring, drywall, adhesives, cements, shingles, glues, and ceiling tiles meaning many people became exposed to the fibers.1

While there may be asbestos products still existing in old structures, they are by and large harmless, unless they are disturbed. Many people working in industries and premises where they came in contact with asbestos have suffered from mesothelioma many decades after the exposure. Family members of those who worked in such premises have also suffered secondary exposure. For example, children who handled clothes of their parents working in areas they are exposed to asbestos may have developed the cancer. While asbestos is identified as the cause of malignant mesothelioma, there are risk factors that increase the chances of an individual developing the disease some of which may even cause mesothelioma without having exposure to asbestos.

Mesothelioma Risk Factors

Mesothelioma risk factors are anything that can increase your chances of developing this form of cancer.1

Age and gender

It has been examined that older people may more than likely be diagnosed with mesothelioma because of the latency period that tends to take many years. About two in every three people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma, they are older than 65. Generally, people who have diseases associated with asbestos may not show signs for such a long time following the exposure. In fact, it may take about 10 to 50 years or even more for individuals to show symptoms of mesothelioma.

The latency window for showing symptoms of mesothelioma is so big that by the time a person is diagnosed with the disease, there is little hope for treating it. That’s why it is advised that if you feel you are at risk of developing mesothelioma, you get regular screening to ensure early detection and commencement of treatment in advance. Mesothelioma is also seen more in men than women. 1,6

Period of exposure

The health risk of being exposed to asbestos increases with the dose and period of exposure. The longer an individual has been exposed to this fibrous mineral, the higher their chance of developing mesothelioma. That said, investigators have also found individuals who have brief exposure to have asbestos related diseases.

Dose of exposure

If you have been exposed to asbestos for long, it implies that you have a large dose, but it’s spread over time. It may also happen that you get brief, but heavy exposure, it could also present a risk of developing the disease.

Asbestos shape, size, and chemical makeup

The body is able to expel substances that get into it, and while some form of asbestos can easily be dislodged from the body, others tend to be difficult to expel and will accumulate over time. 3 Crocidolite, also referred to as ‘blue asbestos’ is the most hazardous in the asbestos family. It contains amphibole fibers and it has been estimated that 18% of people who engaged in mining of this asbestos at least have developed a related cancer.4

Amosite, also referred to as ‘brown asbestos’ is listed among the most dangerous subtypes of asbestos. In its natural form, it is known as grunerite and it has been used in making insulation, ceiling tiles, cement sheets, and fire protection. The amosite fibers are very friable, they easily crumble. The particles can easily disperse in air making people to inhale them. Amosite consists of amphibole fibers that are considered to have a higher risk of contributing to cancer.

Causes & Mesothelioma Risk Factors

Individual and environmental risks

It is confirmed that at least 80 percent of patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma have a known history of getting the exposure and the remaining 20 percent may have been exposed, but didn’t know of the exposure5. There are environmental factors that could increase the risk of developing the cancer and they include:


When it comes to smoking and mesothelioma, it’s important to understand that smoking in itself does not result in mesothelioma. That said, people who smoke and get an exposure to asbestos may find themselves more likely than others to develop a different malignant cancer than mesothelioma. The combination of asbestos exposure and smoking may increase the risk of having lung cancer by about 90 percent. Again, researchers have also found that smoking weakens the lungs something that reduces the ability of the body to be able to dispose of asbestos fibers which have lodged in body.

Simian Virus 40 (SV40)

On its own, SV 40 does not cause mesothelioma, however, studies have shown that close to half of cases of mesothelioma, the patients are also infected with SV40. Simian Virus 40 (SV40) is an oncogenic DNA virus that has been said to induce primary brain as well as bone cancers, lymphomas, and malignant mesothelioma, particularly in laboratory animals. There is persuasive evidence indicating that SV40 may be causing infections in humans and therefore it represents an emerging pathogen. In fact, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recently concluded that SV40 could be a transforming virus.6

Radiation exposure

Although some studies tend to show that there is increased risk of getting mesothelioma after you have radiation therapy to treat other forms of cancer, the evidence is inconsistent and rare.


Not all people who are exposed to the mineral asbestos get mesothelioma, and this has received interest from scientists wanting to know if genetics may play a part in putting an individual at risk. Researchers have identified a mutation that occurs in a gene called BAP1, and they say that it increases the chances of one developing mesothelioma as well as other cancers. It is likely that if someone else within your family suffered mesothelioma, a genetic test could suggest that you are at a higher risk of getting the cancer too.

Other factors that may increase the risk of having mesothelioma include:1

  • If you worked or work at a mine that extracts asbestos or in an asbestos processing plant
  • If you work in occupational settings that may expose you to asbestos such as automotive and construction industries
  • If you served or serve in military facilities and ships that have been built using products that contain asbestos
  • If you live in residential areas located near asbestos mine, you may have an increased risk
  • If you disturb asbestos materials or products by accident, home renovations, or otherwise without putting proper safety measures, it could put you at risk of suffering from mesothelioma.

Reference List

  1. Mesothelioma Causes & Risk Factors.
  3. Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk.
  4. Asbestos – The Primary Cause of Mesothelioma.
  5. Mesothelioma Causes.
  6. Emergent Human Pathogen Simian Virus 40 and Its Role in Cancer.

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