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Causes of Mesothelioma

People who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer always want to know, “Why me?” They ask their physicians and they ask themselves what they could have done differently to prevent their illness. But when it comes to malignant mesothelioma, there is no real mystery as to the cause: mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Cancer is a mutation of cells that occurs as a result of damage to their DNA, and in the case of mesothelioma it is contact with asbestos fibers that have either been inhaled or ingested and that then become embedded in the body of the cells. They cause cell death and the subsequent mutation of the cells around it, which eventually grow into cancerous tumors.

The real question for most mesothelioma victims is where they were exposed to asbestos. In most cases asbestos exposure occurs on a job site where an employee either worked directly with the material or inhaled it in the occupational environment. In other cases the asbestos was contained in household products, or the insulation of their home or a school or office building. Some may have lived close to an asbestos mine or factory where piles of asbestos were dispersed in the wind, or had a parent come home with asbestos dust on their work clothes or skin. Research shows that mesothelioma can develop after exposure to a single fiber of the deadly material, and in some cases the exposure to asbestos may have been extremely limited, but in most documented cases of malignant mesothelioma the patient had constant exposure over an extended period of time.

Where other forms of cancer have a long list of risk factors, in the case of mesothelioma exposure to asbestos is almost exclusively the cause. Though there have been a couple of other causes documented, the incidence of these is extremely rare.

If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma, asbestosis or asbestos cancer, then you may be eligible to receive compensation from the $30 billion asbestos bankruptcy trust or by filing a mesothelioma lawsuit. Contact us today to receive a free Financial Compensation Packet that provides all the information you need on how to get significant compensation, or to be put in contact with a qualified mesothelioma attorney who can help you get the justice you deserve.

Asbestos Exposure is the Primary Cause of Mesothelioma

Asbestos is a mineral that has long been used in industrial and construction settings, but its use reached its zenith during the 20th century when it was used to build office buildings, homes, and infrastructure, as well as to provide insulation and protection in high heat settings such as factories and in shipbuilding.

There had been suspicions about the safety of asbestos for many years, but it was not until the 1980s that researchers definitively established its risks and the information was publicized. Some businesses had known long before that time that the material was causing serious harm, but chose to keep the information secret in order to maximize their profits. Many companies stopped using asbestos entirely once the information became widespread, but by that time there were already tens of thousands of workers and others who had been exposed to the toxic material and who would later become sick as a result.

There have been numerous studies done in the United States and abroad to look into exactly how asbestos makes people sick, and how much exposure is needed to cause mesothelioma. In one study conducted in 2009 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), it was not only confirmed that the primary cause of mesothelioma was exposure to the mineral asbestos, but also that those who had the highest level of exposure were at the greatest risk of being diagnosed with the disease. The report cited a number of settings that posed the greatest threat, and these included factory settings and asbestos processing plants, asbestos mines and steel mills, and schools that had been insulated and equipped with asbestos. The report also pointed out the danger that living close to an asbestos mine posed.

Other studies have confirmed that asbestos is the root cause of mesothelioma but that it generally requires a large and constant exposure to asbestos for malignant mesothelioma to take hold. These included studies conducted in 2010 by the Cancer Institute and by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. These studies showed that because of the physical makeup of asbestos fibers, once they have entered the body and become lodged in a cell, they generally become embedded and the body has no way to get it out. Once lodged in a cell, the asbestos starts its deadly work, transforming the DNA and causing tumors to grow from the area where it is lodged. The tumors grow larger, but it takes an extended period of time before they are large enough to begin causing trouble. In many cases mesothelioma does not begin to cause symptoms until fifty years after the asbestos exposure took place.

How Asbestos Impacts the Body
Though it may seem difficult to imagine how asbestos could be inhaled or ingested, the idea is not at all strange to anybody who has worked around the material. Asbestos is a fibrous material that breaks down very easily, and in most industrial settings where it was used the air was filled with the particles and a fine dust settled on clothing, hair, and skin. These dust particles and fibers are easily inhaled or swallowed, and once that happens they become embedded in the cells lining either the abdominal organs or the lungs. Though the exact mechanism that takes place is still not fully understood, scientists have a number of theories as to what happens within a cell’s body once it has been contaminated by asbestos. These include:

Asbestos causes inflammation, which leads to cellular damage, scarring, and eventual growth of cancerous tumors.
Asbestos causes the genetic structure of mesothelial cells to change. Once the cells are no longer to function in the way that they were intended to, they transform into cancer.
Asbestos creates a reaction from cells in which oncoproteins grow. These interfere with normal cell function and production, leading to the growth of canceorus cells.
Asbestos creates free radicals in the cells which then damage the DNA and transform the cells into cancer cells.

Other Causes of Mesothelioma

Though in most cases malignant mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, there are some instances when patients have definitively never been exposed to the material. This has forced physicians to look elsewhere for a cause, and in some instances they are led to the use of a drug that was used in the 1930s and 1940s prior to having an X-ray image taken. The drug, known as Thorotrast, was known to provide doctors with a higher contrast image with which they could make diagnoses, but it has been shown that it did not leave the body and has been linked not only to a risk for malignant mesothelioma, but also for lung carcinoma.

Another drug that has been linked to mesothelioma is a virus called Simian Virus 40, or SV40, which was has been shown to have contaminated some batches of vaccines used against polio. These batches were created and administered between 1955 and 1963, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have indicated that during that period of time some 90 million doses of the vaccine were administered. From this large number of vaccine recipients, at least 40 patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma also tested positive for the presence of SV40 in their system. There are many questions yet to be answered about this link.

There is another natural material that has been linked to mesothelioma. This material, known as erionite, is very similar in makeup to asbestos, and it is thought that the disease forms in much the same way following exposure to erionite that it does after exposure to asbestos. In both cases the material is mined, is easy to inhale or ingest yet hard to expel, and takes as long as fifty years for the disease state to develop. Though erionite is a less common mineral than asbestos, studies have shown that it is far more deadly, and not only poses a higher risk of mesothelioma for those who are exposed, but also of other types of lung cancers.

Erionite is usually found in deposits similar to those where asbestos is found, but can occasionally be found in volcanic ash or in water systems. Natural deposits of the material have been found all around the world, though Turkey has the highest number of sites where it has been identified. One village called Tuzkoy has an unusually high level of the material in the ground, and the villagers have traditionally used the material for food storage. The incidence of malignant mesothelioma in the area is tragically high. Other areas of the world where erionite is found include:


Erionite deposits have also been found in the United States in Arizona, California, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Studies are being done to determine whether the material currently poses a health risk to residents and what can be done to protect them.


In addition to external causes, it has been shown that there are some people who are genetically more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma than others. According to the National Institutes of Health, there is a genetic mutation called BAP1 that makes it more likely for those who have it to be diagnosed with mesothelioma once exposed to asbestos. These same people are also at higher risk for being diagnosed with melanoma of the eyes, of breast, ovarian, pancreatic or renal cancer, and for other asbestos-related diseases as well.


No matter how a person has come to be have malignant mesothelioma, it is important to remember that all patients will have the same deadly symptoms, though some will recognize the changes in their bodies sooner or experience them in a different way. Because the condition develops so slowly and is so frequently misdiagnosed, it is important for those who have are at risk for the disease to recognize its symptoms so that they can begin treatment as quickly as possible. These symptoms include:

Extreme fatigue
Fluid buildup in the lungs
Mild to acute chest pain
Pain or difficulty in swallowing
Shortness of breath
Unexplained weight loss
Unproductive cough

For those who do not get diagnosed based on these symptoms, the disease is likely to progress, resulting in more severe symptoms such as the ones listed below:

Blood clots in the arms or hands
Collapsed lung
Coughing up blood
Horner’s Syndrome (a rare condition affecting the nerves in the face and/or eyes)
Nerve damage in the arms

A diagnosis of mesothelioma is devastating, and especially for those whose illness could have been prevented had the asbestos companies offered protections against the harmful substance or discontinued its use. For information on compensation that you may be eligible to receive, contact us at 1-800-706-5606. We will send a free Financial Compensation Packet with information on how you can file a claim against the $30 billion asbestos trust funds, or put you in touch with a mesothelioma law firm that can help you to file a mesothelioma lawsuit against the asbestos companies responsible for your illness.