Malignant Mesothelioma: Risk Factors
What is a risk factor?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk
factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history,
or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk
factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.
Things you should know about risk factors for cancer:
Risk factors can increase a person's risk, but they don't always cause the disease.
Some people with risk factors never develop cancer. Other people with cancer have
no risk factors.
Some risk factors are very well known. But there's ongoing research about risk factors
for many types of cancer.
Some risk factors, such as family history, may not be in your control. But others
may be things you can change. Knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that
might help lower your risk. For instance, if an unhealthy diet is a risk factor, you
may choose to eat healthy foods. If excess weight is a risk factor, you may decide
to try to lose weight.
Who is at risk for malignant mesothelioma?
Anyone can get mesothelioma. But there are some factors that can increase your risk
for this type of cancer.
Asbestos exposure is linked to most cases of mesothelioma.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber found in certain types of rock. In the past, asbestos
was common in cement, insulation, ceiling and floor tiles, roof shingles, automotive
parts, and patching compounds. It's no longer used in most of these products in the
U.S. But it’s still in some places, such as in the building materials and insulation
in older homes.
If asbestos fibers are breathed in, they can travel to the lining of the lungs and
harm the cells there. This damage might lead to cancer. People who worked with asbestos
for a long time are most likely to be at risk. This includes some miners, factory
workers, construction workers, and insulation manufacturers or installers. It also
includes ship construction workers, railroad or automotive workers, and others exposed
to asbestos at work. Family members of these workers could also be exposed to asbestos
if it’s brought home on clothing.
People who have been treated for another cancer with high doses of radiation to the
chest or belly (abdomen) may be at higher risk for mesothelioma. Still, this is rare.
Your risk of this cancer goes up as you get older. It’s most common in people age
65 or older.
Men are more likely to get mesothelioma than women. This may be because men are more
likely to work at jobs where they’re exposed to high levels of asbestos.
Zeolites are a group of minerals that are like asbestos. They’re common in the soil
and rocks in certain parts of the world. They've been found in Nevada, Oregon, Utah,
Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota. Breathing in these fibers can increase the risk
Changes (mutations) in the BAP1 gene have been linked to mesothelioma. This mutation
is passed in families, and it's very rare.
What are your risk factors?
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for this cancer. Ask what
you can do about them. Some risk factors, such as your age, aren’t under your control.
But there are some things you can do that might lower your risk.
For instance, it’s important to limit your exposure to asbestos. Most people aren’t
exposed to large amounts of asbestos. But this can be more of a concern for people
who work in certain industries. These include construction or textile manufacturing. You
may need to wear protective clothing, an approved respirator, or other safety equipment.
If you have questions, contact one of these government resources:
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at 800-321-OSHA (800-321-6742)
Many older homes and other buildings might have materials that contain asbestos. In
general, this isn’t a concern as long as the fibers aren’t disturbed, such as during
remodeling. If you think products that contain asbestos may have been used in your
home, ask an expert to check your home. If you have a home with asbestos, don't disturb
it or try to remove it yourself. Asbestos doesn't always have to be removed. If needed,
hire a qualified asbestos expert to check and remove asbestos in your home.
Should you be screened for mesothelioma?
Screening is the process of looking for cancer in people who don’t have symptoms.
Screening for mesothelioma in the general population isn’t advised by any major medical
organization in the U.S. at this time.
Still, if you’ve been exposed to large amounts of asbestos, talk with your healthcare
provider. Or they may raise the idea of screening with you. Some healthcare providers
might suggest tests to look for early signs of this cancer. These might include CT
scans or X-rays of the chest or certain blood tests. But not all healthcare providers
agree that these tests are useful.