Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs in the thin membranes that line the heart, lungs and abdominal organs.
The cause of nearly all types of mesothelioma is traced to exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a group of minerals that are mined and were used in a wide variety of industries including automotive and construction.
Many industries used asbestos in production and it is most widely known as an insulation material for buildings and homes. People who worked in asbestos plants, or who lived nearby, had an extremely high risk of developing mesothelioma. With as little as one to two months of exposure the damage could have been done.
In the past asbestos had been used for everything from roofing products to talc products (including baby powder). Asbestos is a strong material that has many other desirable qualities such being fireproof. Since the 1920’s there has been debate as to the harmful effects of asbestos exposure.
In 1989 in the United States the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of asbestos in most cases after its link to cancer became undeniable. If it is still used it must be labeled as containing asbestos.
Even though the use of asbestos is no longer a common occurrence there are still many buildings where asbestos can be found. Unfortunately a large amount of asbestos was let into the air in 2001 when the World Trade Center towers collapsed.
How does asbestos cause cancer?
It is not known exactly how asbestos causes cancer, but there are several theories. Asbestos fibers can travel through the air and are either ingested or inhaled. They lodge in the linings of the heart, lungs and other organs in the abdomen. It is believed that over time they cause the cells to disrupt natural cell division and become cancerous. Once this happens the cells begin to divide and grow out of control.
Other theories believe that the fibers cause free radicals or that they trigger the production of oncoproteins. Both of these things have been tied to the cause of cancerous cells forming.
Second Hand Exposure
People can pass asbestos fibers through their clothes or hair to other people. Workers with daily exposure often unknowingly brought these fibers home to their families.
While exposure to asbestos is by far the most common cause of mesothelioma there are other causes. Exposure to non-asbestos mineral fibers, exposure to radiation or simian virus 40 have all been linked to mesothelioma. Smoking is not a cause of mesothelioma; however, it has been shown to weaken the body’s ability to expel asbestos fibers and it does aggravate the condition.