Many people have heard that asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. However, there is also a lot of dangerous misinformation surrounding these topics.

Whether you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or are simply curious, you need the facts. Mesothelioma and asbestos exposure should not be taken lightly. Believing false information can have serious consequences for your health.

Myth #1: Asbestos Is Banned and No Longer Used

This is simply not true.

Asbestos regulations in the United States have gotten more severe, but the mineral has not been banned since 1991. Today, over 3,000 consumer goods still contain asbestos products. Many of these products can be found in your local hardware or home improvement store.

These products include:

  • Caulking
  • Joint compound
  • Roofing shingles
  • Drywall gaskets

Additionally, asbestos is allowed to remain in buildings constructed before the regulations were put in place. Because of this, many structures that were built or renovated between the 1930s and the early 1980s may still contain asbestos products.

In older buildings, asbestos can be found in:

  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Plaster
  • Electrical and plumbing systems
  • Siding
  • Other materials

If asbestos-containing products are damaged or disturbed, asbestos fibers can enter the surrounding air. If these fibers are inhaled, it can lead to mesothelioma and other health problems.

Myth #2: The Dangers of Asbestos Have Been Exaggerated by Lawyers

While it is true that asbestos lawsuits have become one of the biggest legal issues in the United States today, the dangers of asbestos have been well-documented by the scientific and medical communities.

Hundreds of studies have reported how asbestos leads to mesothelioma and other diseases in humans. These studies date back to the 1930s when the health risks first became apparent.

However, the manufacturers of asbestos products knew they could make millions from their products. They hid the deadly truth about asbestos for decades until the public finally caught on.

Virtually all cases of mesothelioma can be attributed to asbestos exposure. Even a single exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma.

Myth #3: Mesothelioma Only Affects the Elderly

In most cases, it takes 20 and 50 years for mesothelioma appear, although asbestos fibers will damage the body for much of that time. Since it takes so long for mesothelioma to become noticeable, it is rarely diagnosed in people who are younger than 50.

However, anyone who is exposed to asbestos is at risk, including:

  • Young Adults: There have been cases where otherwise healthy people in their 20s and 30s developed mesothelioma and died. In 2008, a 33-year-old English woman named Rose Wharton died from mesothelioma, likely after helped build a school using asbestos products while a teenager.
  • Teens: To date, the youngest person who died from mesothelioma was 18-year-old Sophie Ellis. Ellis, also from England, was just 13 when she was diagnosed, and when the cancer spread to her spine she was paralyzed from the neck down.
  • Children: In the U.S., another 13-year-old was diagnosed with mesothelioma in the town of Libby, Montana. Many children in the area were exposed to asbestos from a very young age, as owners of local asbestos mines donated materials to build the town’s playgrounds, Little League fields and other recreational areas.

Myth #4: Only People Who Work Directly With Asbestos Are At Risk For Mesothelioma

Indirect contact with asbestos is every bit as dangerous as handling the material directly.

When asbestos fibers are released, they can settle in clothing, hair, water supplies and food. These fibers pose just as much a threat to human health as the products that they came from.

For example, if a worker came home covered in asbestos fibers, their spouse and children could unknowingly breathe in these fibers and develop mesothelioma decades later.

Family members could have also been exposed to asbestos fibers by:

  • Washing clothes covered in asbestos dust
  • Visiting a family member on a job site
  • Living in a home built with asbestos products

Additionally, there is an environmental risk associated with asbestos. In any areas where asbestos is mined, the groundwater, soil and air can have high concentrations of asbestos fibers.

Wittenoom, an asbestos mining town in Western Australia, was forced to close because there was too much contamination. According to the Guardian, a British newspaper, over 2,000 former citizens and workers of the town died from asbestos-related diseases.

Myth #5: Asbestos Workers Knew the Risks but Ignored Them

The exact opposite is true. Those who worked with asbestos materials — and the general public — did not know the dangers until it was too late.

This was due to the manufacturers of asbestos products. Since asbestos was cheap to extract and resisted fire, water and sound, corporations could make millions at the expense of their workers’ lives.

It has been documented that when workers expressed concern about the great clouds of asbestos dust which surrounded them in the workplace, their employers and supervisors lied to them about the health risks.

When internal studies concluded that workers were falling prey to respiratory conditions at a much greater rate than the average population, executives hid the studies.

It was not until the early 1980s that the health risks of asbestos reached national attention. By then, greedy asbestos companies had profited off the mineral for over 50 years.

Myth #6: Asbestos Should Be Removed Immediately If It Is Found

Actually, there are times when it is better to leave asbestos materials in place.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asbestos-containing materials may be classified as either “friable” or “non-friable.” If something is friable, it can be crushed by very slight pressure (such as if someone puts their hand on it).

Asbestos products can become friable if they are damaged or as they weaken and become brittle over time. Friable asbestos products can release microscopic fibers into the air and put anyone nearby at risk.

Today, it is recommended to leave older asbestos products intact if they are not damaged. Removing them could cause asbestos fibers to enter the surrounding air.

Myth #7: “I’ll Be Fine If I Wear a Mask”

While a respirator mask should always be used around asbestos, never handle or remove any asbestos-containing materials yourself.

Anyone who practices asbestos abatement, which is the removal of asbestos-containing materials, needs to be properly trained and licensed. In some states, it is illegal to remove asbestos without a license because of the potential health hazards.

Asbestos fibers can remain airborne for long periods of time. Amateur removal projects can put you, your family and your neighbors at risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

A removal specialist will not only wear a respirator and other protective clothing but will also take steps to properly dispose of any asbestos-containing materials to prevent contamination.

Myth #8: There Is Only One Kind of Asbestos

Most people talk about “asbestos” as if it were a single material, but in fact, the term applies to six different silicate minerals.

Asbestos can be divided into two groups: serpentine and amphibole.

  • Serpentine asbestos has a layered or sheet-like structure and has been the most commonly used type of asbestos in the United States. Chrysotile is the only mineral in the serpentine group. Today, some manufacturers will try to confuse buyers by listing chrysotile as an ingredient instead of asbestos in their products.
  • Amphibole asbestos includes amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite. Of these, amosite and crocidolite were the most widely used forms. The fibers of these minerals, when seen under a microscope, are sharp and needle-like.

Lawyers who represent asbestos companies sometimes claim that certain types of asbestos are not harmful to humans. However, this is not true. Any type of asbestos can lead to mesothelioma if the fibers are inhaled or ingested.

Myth #9: Mesothelioma Is Just A Different Name for Lung Cancer

Mesothelioma is not lung cancer for several reasons.

  1. Mesothelioma does not affect the actual lung tissue. It develops in the mesothelium, a tissue which covers the lungs and lines the inside of the chest cavity.
  2. Its tumors develop in a different way. Lung cancer tumors develop in lumps, whereas mesothelioma tumors spread in sheets across the lung lining. The shape of mesothelioma tumors makes it difficult for doctors to treat this disease.
  3. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Lung cancer can be caused by smoking, family history and other factors. However, asbestos exposure can also cause lung cancer as well, leading to confusion between the two.

Mesothelioma is very rare compared to lung cancer. Less than 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year, compared to over 230,000 cases of lung cancer.

Because of this, it is important that you are properly diagnosed. Misdiagnosis of lung cancer or another disease can prove to be a fatal mistake.

Myth #10: Mesothelioma Only Affects the Lungs

Mesothelioma can affect many different areas throughout the body, and all types of mesothelioma are deadly.

Mesothelioma can develop in:

  • The lung linings: Pleural mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs. This type accounts for 75% of all mesothelioma cases.
  • The abdomen lining: Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the stomach and abdomen. This is the second-most common type of mesothelioma.
  • The heart lining: Pericardial mesothelioma appears in the lining of the heart. Pericardial mesothelioma is a very rare type of mesothelioma.
  • The lining of the testicles: Testicular mesothelioma affects the lining of the scrotum and testicles. Fewer than 100 patients have been diagnosed with this form of mesothelioma to date.

Get the Facts and Take Action

As with any disease, knowledge is power. The more you know about an illness, the better prepared you will be to combat it.

Anyone who may have experienced asbestos exposure in the past is strongly encouraged to tell their doctor.

Additionally, they should self-monitor for the symptoms of mesothelioma.

Notable symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the chest, back or ribs
  • Swelling of the face or neck
  • Persistent and/or bloody cough

If you were exposed to asbestos, these symptoms may indicate that you have mesothelioma. By getting the facts and staying alert, those at-risk for mesothelioma can use their knowledge to take action.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact Mesothelioma Hope today. Our Patient Advocacy Team can answer your questions and connect you with medical and legal resources. Call (866) 608-8933 today or fill out our contact form to learn more.

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Written by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

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  1. Lung Cancer Fact Sheet. (2018, December 14). Retrieved from

  2. Mailonline, A. R. (2018, September 27). Young woman may have got asbestos-related cancer from gap year. Retrieved from

  3. (2012, January 27). Youngest asbestos victim dies aged 18. Retrieved from

  4. Press, A. A. (2019, March 21). Final Wittenoom residents to be forced out of asbestos-ridden mining town. Retrieved from

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