What Causes Mesothelioma?
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring, fibrous minerals and the only confirmed cause of mesothelioma. Due to its durable, fire-resistant nature, asbestos was widely used throughout the 20th century in a number of industrial, military, and residential applications, peaking in popularity during World War II.
Unfortunately, in 1977, the International Agency for Research on Cancer deemed asbestos a Group 1 carcinogen (or cancer-causing substance). Since then, most new uses asbestos have been phased out in the U.S. However, mesothelioma is still a concern because of its long latency period, which is the time between exposure to the carcinogen and the onset of symptoms. This is mainly due to factors like the amount and duration of asbestos exposure. It often takes 20–50 years for the symptoms of mesothelioma to appear, so those who were exposed decades ago are still at risk. Many buildings were constructed using asbestos as insulation, so it’s also possible to become exposed during demolitions, renovations, or natural disasters.
Because of its widespread use over decades, millions of Americans may have been exposed to asbestos unknowingly, either directly or indirectly through secondhand exposure. While other factors, such as radiation, zeolites (another group of minerals similar to asbestos), and the SV40 virus have been linked to mesothelioma, asbestos remains the only known cause of this progressive cancer.
How Does Asbestos Cause Mesothelioma?
When asbestos is disturbed, its fibers become airborne and can enter the body in two ways: inhalation or ingestion. Similar to getting a splinter in your skin, the asbestos fibers lodge in the body’s mesothelium, the lining of the chest and stomach cavities. These fibers irritate the tissue, causing damage and inflammation. This results in the formation of scar tissue, which in some cases leads to the development of malignant mesothelioma tumors. Asbestos is also linked to other illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and ovarian cancer.
What Type of Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma?
There are six forms of asbestos, all of which are proven causes of mesothelioma. The two most commonly used forms of asbestos are chrysotile and amphibole.
Chrysotile asbestos, sometimes referred to as white or curly asbestos, is the most common type of asbestos. Amphibole asbestos, sometimes called brown asbestos, has straight fibers and is broken into two subgroups, crocidolite and amosite asbestos.
Products That Contain Asbestos
A number of everyday products contain asbestos, including:
- Electrical wiring
- Fireproof blankets and clothing
- Piping material
- Potting soils
- Roofing and shingles
- Talcum powder, found in beauty products and baby powder
- Vehicles, commonly brake pads and clutches
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
The early symptoms of mesothelioma often include a persistent cough, chest or abdominal pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue. These symptoms usually worsen as the cancer metastasizes, or spreads. Most mesothelioma diagnoses happen at stage 3, as symptoms at this stage become difficult to ignore. Hoarseness, coughing up blood, and weight loss are indicators that the mesothelioma may be spreading to other organs in the body.
If you think you may have been exposed to asbestos or are showing any symptoms, contact your doctor right away. Because of the aggressive nature of mesothelioma, early detection can greatly increase your prognosis.