What are the risk factors for malignant mesothelioma?
There are several risk factors that increase the likelihood that a person will develop mesothelioma. The primary risk factor is asbestos exposure. Exposure to this very harmful substance can significantly enhance the chances of contracting the disease. Smoking does not have a direct causal relationship with mesothelioma but is a significant compounding factor and increases the chances of developing the disease. Other less common secondary factors include exposure to radiation, zeolite, simian virus 40 (SV40) and erionite. We discuss each of these risk factors in more detail below. Please click on the links to learn more about each mesothelioma risk factor.
Exposure to Asbestos
Exposure to asbestos is the leading risk factor associated with mesothelioma. Asbestos is an insulating material comprised of magnesium-silicate mineral fibers. It was favored by builders and contractors for many years for its low heat conductivity and resistance to melting and burning. Since researchers have identified more and more links between mesothelioma and exposure to asbestos, the material is now less widely used. Prior to this discovery, however, millions of Americans have experienced serious exposure to this harmful substance.
Smoking and Mesothelioma
Smoking alone is not linked to mesothelioma, but smokers who are exposed to asbestos have a much higher chance of developing asbestos lung cancer (as much as fifty to ninety percent higher) and as much as double the risk of developing mesothelioma.
Less Common Mesothelioma Risk Factors
Thorium dioxide (Thorotrast), a substance used in x-ray tests in the past has reported links to pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. The use of Thorotrast has been discontinued for many years due to this discovery.
Some mesothelioma cases in the Anatoli region within Turkey have been linked to Zeolite, a silica based mineral with chemical properties similar to asbestos found in the soil there.
Simian Virus 40 (SV40)
Some scientists have found the simian virus 40 (SV30) in mesothelioma cells from humans and have been able to create mesothelioma in animals with the virus. The relationship between this virus and mesothelioma is still unclear, however, and further research is being conducted to gain clarity on this potential link.
Erionite is a naturally occurring mineral that possesses properties that are very similar to those of asbestos. There have been several documented cases of mesothelioma in indivuduals living near large erionite deposits.
Researchers continue to evaluate nanotube exposure as a possible risk factor for mesothelioma even though scientists have not expressed immediate concern.
National Cancer Institute - Fact Sheets: Risk Factors and Possible Causes