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Causes of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that occurs in the lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, or heart. There is only one known cause for this disease: exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally in the environment.

How Does Exposure Happen?

Asbestos fibers are strong and heat-resistant. These qualities, combined with its relative low cost, once made this material a popular ingredient in a wide variety of products. From the flooring beneath your feet to the roofing tiles over your head, for many years dangerous asbestos-containing materials could have literally surrounded you at work or even in your home.

When asbestos-containing products are disturbed by sawing or cutting, microscopic asbestos fibers can get released into the air, creating dangerous asbestos dust. This dust is easily inhaled or swallowed, and can settle in the lungs or stomach. Despite the widely known fact that asbestos causes mesothelioma, it is still used in many products manufactured today.

3 ways you can be exposed to asbestos:

Work Exposure to Asbestos

At Work

There are several professions in which frequent exposure to asbestos-containing materials may have occurred. These include: the military (especially in the U.S. Navy), shipbuilding, mining, plumbing, electrical, and construction.
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Second Hand Asbestos Exposure


Asbestos fibers are smaller than a grain of sand. They can easily get lodged in a person’s hair or on their clothing. Secondhand exposure typically occurs when someone who has been working with asbestos-containing materials on the job brings these fibers home.
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Home Exposure to Asbestos

At Home

Asbestos can be found in many home-building products, such as insulation, wallboard, roofing shingles, flooring, ceiling tiles, and fireplace tiles. This is especially true in homes built before 1980.
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How Does Mesothelioma Develop?

Once asbestos fibers are inhaled or swallowed, they can cause irritation in the lungs or stomach. The body attempts to remove these fibers but is not always successful. Sometimes the fibers become stuck in the lining that protects a person’s lungs, abdomen, or heart. The trapped fibers irritate the cells, causing changes in their genetic structure. Over time, this can result in mesothelioma.

Thankfully, not everyone who is exposed to asbestos ends up with mesothelioma. In fact, some people with long histories of exposure never develop this cancer, while others with only a very short period of exposure develop the disease. It can take 20 to 50 years for mesothelioma symptoms to develop. Unfortunately, the risk of developing mesothelioma does not diminish after a person’s exposure to asbestos ends. Once a person is exposed, the risk of developing mesothelioma or any asbestos-related illness is life long.

What’s Next?

Diagnostic Tests