Mesothelioma is most predominantly caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers that are inhaled through the mouth and nose may eventually become embedded in the lining of the lungs, causing damage and resulting in mesothelioma lung cancer or asbestosis (scar tissue formation in the lungs). It has also been found that swallowing asbestos fibers could contribute to a form of mesothelioma originating in the abdomen called peritoneal mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma cancer generally results from occupational exposure but there are instances of environmental exposure to asbestos that can cause mesothelioma disease. Oftentimes second hand exposure of a family member to an asbestos worker’s soiled work clothes can result in that family member having a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Asbestos insulation workers appear to have the highest death rate. One study reports that almost six percent of asbestos workers fall victim to mesothelioma or experience mesothelioma symptoms and asbestos insulation workers are over 300 times more likely to die from mesothelioma than the general public.
How does exposure to asbestos cause mesothelioma?
Asbestos fibers are microscopic, though they are also quite durable. For this reason, asbestos was used in a number of different industrial compounds to enhance strength and resistance to temperature extremes- two properties at which the mineral is highly adept. Asbestos exposure most often occurred among individuals who worked extensively with asbestos or asbestos-containing materials. Friable asbestos (meaning loose or airborne fibers) is easily inhaled- often without the exposed person realizing.
When inhaled, asbestos lodges easily in the outer lung tissue and within the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a thin membrane of cells which produces a lubricating fluid on the surface of the organs. This lubricant allows the lung and other internal structures to expand, contract, and move freely without friction in the body cavity. Over time (often 40 or 50 years) asbestos irritates this tissue, causing inflammation and malignant scar tissue plaques on the surface of the mesothelium. These plaques are the foundation of the mesothelioma tumor.
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common variety of the disease and forms on the pleural membrane, which surrounds the lung and chest cavity. Peritoneal mesothelioma is less common and forms on the surface of the peritoneum, a thin membrane surrounding the abdominal cavity. Pericardial mesothelioma is the least common variety of the disease and forms in the sac that envelops the heart, a mesothelial membrane known as the pericardium.
Inhaled asbestos fibers are known to be the cause of pleural mesothelioma, whereas ingested asbestos fibers are the cause of peritoneal mesothelioma. While the exact causal nature between asbestos and pericardial mesothelioma is not known, physicians and cancer researchers surmise asbestos fibers in the blood stream lodge in the outer layers of the heart’s ventricles and lodge in the pericardium. Once asbestos fibers reach the surface of the peritoneum or pericardium, the inflammation process is essentially the same as it is on the surface of the pleura.
Primary workplace exposure to the mineral was common in naval shipyards, power plants, railroad infrastructure, and other industrial jobsites. However, asbestos-related mesotheliomas have also been diagnosed in spouses or children of those exposed to asbestos. Workers often brought home dangerous asbestos fibers on their clothing, hair, or person. Those who came into contact with these fibers on the person or their clothing have developed mesothelioma as a result.
Other Contributing Factors
Mesothelioma is also causally associated with a few other factors, but many of these are attributed to the development of mesothelioma in conjunction with exposure to asbestos.
Those who smoke are at a higher risk of mesothelioma, though smoking is more commonly associated with traditional lung carcinomas. Smoking tends to enhance risk even further in those who were also exposed to asbestos.
While extremely rare, some mesothelioma patients attribute their diagnosis to exposure to radiation rather than exposure to asbestos. Radiation tends to transform and mutate cell growth patterns and is more commonly associated with brain and blood cancers.
Research is extremely preliminary in this study, but some laboratory studies indicate a molecular similarity between asbestos mineral fibers and carbon nanotubes. Tests indicate a pronounced risk of mesothelioma in some laboratory animals implanted with carbon nanotubes.
What Should I do if I have been diagnosed with Mesothelioma?
Many of those diagnosed with mesothelioma wonder if asbestos exposure is to be blamed for their illness. Asbestos was used in thousands of commercial and industrial products. These include, but are not limited to roofing material, insulation compounds, joint compounds, cements, siding, floor and ceiling, tiles, glue, and any other product designed specifically to withstand heat and temperature extremes.
If you worked with one of these products and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is highly likely asbestos is the cause of your illness. To help you in recovering costs for mesothelioma treatment as well as damages to assist your family, you should speak with a well-versed asbestos attorney to determine if you’re eligible for compensation. Court documents now indicate many of these product manufacturers were well aware of the hazards which asbestos posed but continued to endanger employees and the public by exposure to the mineral. To learn more about the relationship between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, or to find out if you’re eligible for financial compensation for your illness, please fill out the brief form on this page.
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