Risk Factors for Mesothelioma

A risk factor is a characteristic or attribute that makes a person more likely to be diagnosed with a specific disease or injury. It is different from the cause of the illness, in that having a risk factor does not always necessarily lead to the disease, and that people who do not necessarily fall into a risk category can still end up with the disease. Knowing a disease’s risk factors is most helpful for the prevention of disease: if you know its risk factor, you can improve your chance of avoiding it by eliminating or avoiding the risk factor in your life. Risk factors are also helpful in diagnosis, as a physician that is aware that a patient had certain risk factors in their life can more easily narrow down their differential diagnosis.

When it comes to malignant mesothelioma, there are four different specific risk factors. They are:

  • Exposure to asbestos: Far and away the greatest risk factor for a mesothelioma diagnosis is exposure to asbestos, a carcinogenic natural mineral that was an extremely popular component in materials used in the construction industry, shipbuilding, insulation, concrete, the chemical industry, textiles, and other applications. Asbestos’ chemical makeup makes it extremely strong and flexible, but also makes it vulnerable to breaking down into fine fibers and dust that can easily be inhaled or ingested. These particles can also adhere to skin, hair, and clothing and be carried into other environments. This means that asbestos exposure is a risk factor both for people who work with the material and for people who share their environment. Workplace exposure was once a greater risk than it is today, as regulations have limited the amount of asbestos that can be present in an occupational environment, and other safety precautions have been put into place.
  • Cigarette smoking: It is well known that smoking cigarettes are a risk factor for many different illnesses. Epidemiologic studies have shown that cigarette smoking alone does nothing to increase an individual’s risk for a mesothelioma diagnosis, but when combined with exposure to asbestos it does increase the risk of diagnosis of some lung cancers. It also makes mesothelioma symptoms far worse and can shorten survival time after diagnosis.
  • Exposure to radiation: There have been some instances reported of radiation exposure leading to mesothelioma following treatment for lymphoma.
  • Genetics: Families that have a genetic mutation in a gene called BAP1 have a small chance of mesothelioma being inherited.

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