Risk factors for malignant mesothelioma?

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, exposing skin to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for cancers of the lung, mouth, larynx (voice box), bladder, kidney, and several other organs.

But risk factors don't tell us everything. Having a known risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And some people who get the disease may not have had any known risk factors.

Researchers have found some factors that increase a person's risk of mesothelioma.


The main risk factor for developing mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. In fact, most cases of mesothelioma have been linked to asbestos exposure in the workplace. Asbestos is a family of fibrous minerals made of silicate. It is a naturally occurring mineral that can be found in dust and rocks in certain parts of the United States and other parts of the world.
There are 2 main forms of asbestos:

· Serpentine (curly) fibers include chrysotile, the most widely used form of asbestos.
· Amphiboles are thin, rod-like fibers. There are 5 main types -- crocidolite, amosite, anthrophylite, tremolite, and actinolyte.

Amphiboles (particularly crocidolite) are considered to be more likely to cause cancer. However, even the more commonly used chrysotile fibers are linked with mesotheliomas.

When chrysotile fibers in the air are inhaled, they tend to stick to mucus in the throat, trachea (windpipe), or bronchi (large breathing tubes of the lungs). These fibers are then cleared from the lungs by being coughed up or swallowed. But the long, thin amphibole fibers are harder to clear, and they may stay in the lungs, traveling to the ends of the small airways and penetrating into the pleural lining of the lung and chest wall. These
fibers may then injure mesothelial cells of the pleura, and eventually cause mesothelioma. 

Asbestos fibers can also damage cells of the lung and result in asbestosis (formation of scar tissue in the lung) and/or lung cancer. Indeed, asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer are the 3 most frequent causes of death and disease among people with heavy asbestos exposure.

Peritoneal mesothelioma, which forms in the abdomen, may result from coughing up and swallowing inhaled asbestos fibers.


Zeolites are silicate minerals that are chemically related to asbestos. An example is erionite, which is common in the soil in parts of Turkey. High mesothelioma rates in these areas are believed to be due to exposure to this mineral.


There have been a few published reports of mesotheliomas that developed following exposure to high doses of radiation to the chest or abdomen as a treatment for cancer. Although the risk of mesothelioma is increased in patients who have been treated with radiation, this cancer still only occurs rarely in these patients. There have also been reports linking this cancer to injections of thorium dioxide (Thorotrast). This material
was used by doctors for certain x-ray tests until the 1950s. Thorotrast was found to cause cancers, so it has not been used for many years.

SV40 virus
Some studies have raised the possibility that infection with simian virus 40 (SV40) might increase the risk of developing mesothelioma. Some injectable polio vaccines given between 1955 and 1963 were contaminated with SV40. As many as 30 million people in the United States may have been exposed to the virus.

Some lab studies have suggested that SV40 infection may cause mesothelioma. For example, intentional infection with SV40 of some lab animals like hamsters causes mesotheliomas to develop. Researchers also have noticed that SV40 can cause mouse cells grown in dishes to become cancerous, and that asbestos increases the cancer-causing effect of SV40 on these cells. Other researchers have found SV40 DNA in some biopsy specimens of human mesotheliomas. But fragments of SV40 DNA can also be found in
some non-cancerous human tissues.

So far, the largest studies addressing this issue in humans have not found an increased risk for mesothelioma or other cancers among people who received the contaminated vaccines as children. But the peak age range for diagnosis of mesothelioma is 50 to 70 years. Some researchers have pointed out that this issue may remain unresolved until more of the people accidentally exposed to SV40 between 1955 and 1963 reach that age range.

Most experts have concluded that at this time we still don't know whether SV40 is responsible for some mesotheliomas. Research into this important topic is still under way.

Mesothelioma is rare in people under age 45. Its incidence increases with age. About 3 out of 4 people with mesothelioma are over 65 years old.

The disease affects men about 4 times more often than women.

For more detail Cancer.org

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