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 necessarily cause the disease.
Some people with risk factors never develop cancer. Other people can develop cancer
and have few or no risk factors.
Some risk factors are very well known. But there is 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 lower your risk. For example, 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 is a mineral fiber found in certain types of rock. In the past, asbestos
was common in some products. These included cement, insulation, ceiling or floor tiles,
roof shingles, automotive parts, and patching compounds. Asbestos is no longer used
in most of these products in the U.S., but it’s still in some places, such as in the
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 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 abdomen may have a higher risk for mesothelioma. Up until the 1950s, healthcare
providers sometimes gave people a radiocontrast material called Thorotrast. This was
used to help see things better on X-rays. This was found to increase the risk for
some cancers, including mesothelioma. So healthcare providers stopped using it.
Your risk of this cancer goes up as you get older. It’s most common in people 65 or
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. Breathing in these fibers can increase the
risk for mesothelioma.
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. Hire
a qualified asbestos expert to check and remove asbestos in your home if needed.
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 recommended by any major
medical organization in the U.S. at this time.
But if you’ve been exposed to large amounts of asbestos at work, talk to your healthcare
provider. Or he or she may raise the idea of screening with you. Some healthcare providers
might suggest tests to look for early signs of this cancer. These include CT scans
of the chest or certain blood tests. However, not all healthcare providers agree that
these tests are useful.