Causes of mesothelioma

Causes of mesothelioma

The main cause of mesothelioma is believed to be asbestos. But research into other causes is also taking place. Mesothelioma develops very slowly after asbestos exposure. It can take anything from 10 to 60 years for symptoms to appear.

Asbestos exposure means if you come in contact with asbestos dust or fibres. Asbestos dust or fibres in the air cause harm, whereas undisturbed asbestos material is believed not harmful.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural mineral found in rock. There are many types, which are all harmful. In the past, it was widely used in construction, industry and shipbuilding because it was resistant to heat and chemicals.

Asbestos fibres can also be swallowed and remain in the stomach or gullet. This causes swelling in the nearby tissues like in the lungs. This is how peritoneal mesothelioma develops.

Who gets mesothelioma?

The people usually affected by asbestos exposure include builders, plumbers, electricians and shipbuilders. There have also been cases of mesothelioma in those who lived near an asbestos factory.

Family members of those who have worked with asbestos have been known to get mesothelioma because of exposure to work clothes covered in asbestos dust. It is not known how much asbestos exposure is needed to get mesothelioma, but it is believed to be very little.

What should I do if I was exposed to asbestos?

If you have been exposed to asbestos fibres in the past, you are at risk of getting mesothelioma. Do talk to your GP for advice. But it is important to remember that not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos gets mesothelioma.

It is not known why some people do and others do not. It is believed that it depends on the type of asbestos and the length of exposure. Mesothelioma is not infectious and cannot be inherited.

Family members do not have a higher risk of getting the disease, unless they themselves have been exposed to asbestos.

Is asbestos still used?

Asbestos is banned in some countries but not in others. By law you now cannot use, reuse, sell or supply materials containing asbestos in Ireland. Even so, there are many materials that still contain asbestos in Ireland.

These are found in many products, buildings and structures – mostly to do with insulation, fire proofing, roofing and flooring. Under Irish law, if an employer suspects that asbestos is present, he or she must get a risk assessment done by a licensed company to find out the health risk for the employees. If the material containing asbestos is in a safe condition, it can be left alone. But if the material is a health risk to employees, a licensed company must remove the material safely.

How is asbestos harmful? When asbestos is broken or damaged, it releases fibres or dust into the air. These are then breathed into your lungs. The fibres are tiny and can reach the smallest areas of your lungs. They remain there, as they are too tiny to cough or breathe out. The body tries to break the fibres down and remove them, but with no success. Instead, it causes swelling in the nearby lung tissue. The tiny fibres can also move into the lungs and into the pleura, where they can remain and slowly develop into pleural mesothelioma.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Monday, December 11, 2017