What Causes Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare, but dangerous form of cancer. At a basic level, all cancers are caused by mutations in the body’s healthy cells. These mutations damage the cells’ DNA. Cellular DNA is what makes up our genetics. It’s what’s responsible for giving cells their instructions for how to function and when to divide and eventually die off.
When these DNA instructions are altered or mutated, it can cause cells to turn unhealthy and grow out of control. As cells continue to grow out of control it leads to cancerous tumor growth, like mesothelioma
Researchers still aren’t clear on what triggers these cellular mutations. However, for each type of cancer, including mesothelioma, researchers work to identify different sets of risk factors that are possible triggers for these genetic mutations.
Mesothelioma Risk Factors
Mesothelioma risk factors are possibly lifestyle, environmental or genetic considerations that are known or believed to trigger the genetic mutations that cause mesothelioma. In order words, they are factors that affect a person’s likelihood of developing the disease.
While there are many possibilities to consider, there is one main mesothelioma risk factor that is a known trigger for initiating the cellular mutations leading to mesothelioma. This primary risk factor is asbestos exposure.
Exposure to asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma.
Asbestos in a mineral substance traditionally used as a composite material in construction. Asbestos was widely used in during the 20th century as an insulator in buildings, ships, vehicles and numerous other capacities. Asbestos is composed of microscopic, durable fibers. Its natural resistance to corrosion and propensity to withstand heat made it a valuable material for many industrial applications.
However, when asbestos is disturbed, such as through mining or construction, it creates an airborne dust of its fibers. This leaves anyone who is working around asbestos dust susceptible to inhaling or ingesting the fibers. Additionally, you can be exposed to asbestos indirectly by being around and living with people who have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos can get carried into the home by attaching itself to skin or clothing, which leaves others open to inhaling and ingesting it.
If inhaled or ingested, asbestos fibers can settle deep inside the lungs or abdomen and cannot be eliminated from the body. Instead, asbestos fibers cling to the linings of the lungs, chest, heart, diaphragm, stomach or intestinal tract.
For years, asbestos fibers can lay dormant inside the body. Over time, asbestos can cause irritation, inflammation and eventual scarring. It’s this prolonged irritation that’s believed to damage healthy cells and trigger genetic mutations, which eventually produces mesothelioma.
It can take 20 to 40 years before mesothelioma develops after asbestos exposure. The amount of time that someone is exposed to asbestos may play a role in whether or not mesothelioma develops but not always. Some people are exposed to asbestos for years and never develop mesothelioma, while others develop it after only a brief exposure period.
Other Risk Factors
Because some people with a history of asbestos exposure get mesothelioma while others do not, there are potentially other risk factors at play. These other risk factors may compound the likelihood of developing mesothelioma when combined with asbestos exposure.
Researchers feel that other mesothelioma risk factors include:
- Genetics: Those who have a parent, sibling or child with mesothelioma may be more likely to develop it as well. This is potentially due to a genetic predisposition for developing the disease. In general, genetics are thought to play a role in contributing to all cancers. The triggering of cellular mutations, and the likelihood of this developing into cancer, is felt to be tied to genetics.
- Lifestyle and Diet: Poor health from bad diet and lifestyle habits can put people at a higher risk of triggering mesothelioma if they’ve been exposed to asbestos. In the same vein, healthy lifestyle and diet habits can help improve the effectiveness of treatments and life expectancy in those who do have mesothelioma.
- Age: Two-thirds of mesothelioma patients are over the age of 65. This is due to the 20-40-year latency period between asbestos exposure and developing mesothelioma symptoms.
- Gender: Men are up to four times more likely to develop the disease than women are. This is attributed to the higher rates of men having a history of working jobs that involved exposure to asbestos.
Understanding Mesothelioma Causes
Knowing the cause of mesothelioma and its link to asbestos exposure has been critical in helping doctors better understand the disease and how to treat it. For mesothelioma patients, understanding how their disease developed is a vital part of coping with the condition and understanding what to expect.
The studies conducted in clinical trials will only lead to more information and understanding about mesothelioma and its causes and effects. Talk to your healthcare team about participating in clinical trials so that you can take advantage of leading research and advanced treatment options.