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Mesothelioma Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

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What Causes Mesothelioma?

There are several factors that can increase your risk of mesothelioma. However, exactly how these factors lead to cancer is not clear. 

The main cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a fine, durable fiber that was used in many building materials. When inhaled or swallowed, asbestos fibers can cause inflammation and scarring, damaging cells and causing uncontrolled cell growth. 

About 8 out of 10 people that are diagnosed with mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos. But most people exposed to asbestos, don’t get mesothelioma.

Another cause linked to mesothelioma is radiation treatments given for other cancers as radiation damages the DNA of cells that may lead to rapid cell growth. 

What Are Risk Factors for Mesothelioma?

Anything that increases your chance of getting mesothelioma cancer is a risk factor. Know your risk factors and talk to your doctor to help reduce your risk.

The following may increase your chance of developing mesothelioma:

  • Asbestos exposure: Of people diagnosed with mesothelioma, 70% to 80% have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a natural mineral that was commonly added to cement, insulation, roof shingles and other products. People who made or worked with products containing asbestos could breathe in or swallow the fibers, or carry them on clothing, exposing others. 

If intact, materials containing asbestos generally don’t pose a health risk. If damaged, they may pose a risk as they could release asbestos fibers into the air. 

You may be at higher risk for asbestos exposure if you:

  • Work as a miner, factory worker, insulation manufacturers and installers, railroad and automotive workers, shipbuilders, gas mask manufacturers, plumbers, construction workers and military veterans
  • Live in an older home
  • Spend time in older commercial or buildings

There now are safety regulations protecting people who work with asbestos and preventing its spread. By federal law, schools must regularly inspect materials with asbestos.

  • Smoking: Smoking in combination with asbestos exposure can increase the risk of certain types of cancer in the lungs
  • Radiation exposure: Radiation exposure may cause mesothelioma, such as when a patient has previously received radiation therapy for lymphoma
  • Genetics: About 1% of people with mesothelioma inherited it, usually due to a mutation in a gene called BAP1

How to Prevent Mesothelioma?

The best way to prevent mesothelioma is to avoid exposure to asbestos. To minimize your risk, always wear protective gear and follow safety precautions when working with asbestos. 

A knowledgeable professional can check your home if you suspect you have asbestos or see any damage that could lead to exposure. If asbestos needs to be removed, hire a qualified contractor – don’t remove materials yourself as you could further contaminate your home.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, watch for symptoms and speak to your doctor.

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