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A mesothelioma diagnosis with unknown asbestos exposure is uncommon but possible. The asbestos exposure may have been secondary, from the environment, from an older home, or even from the use of personal products. Contact a mesothelioma lawyer to investigate if you don’t know where you experienced asbestos exposure.
Can Mesothelioma Be a Misdiagnosis?
Yes, mesothelioma can be a misdiagnosis, but this is rare. It is much more common for mesothelioma to be misdiagnosed as a more common illness, like lung cancer.
If you were diagnosed with mesothelioma and have no known past asbestos exposure, it makes sense to seek a second opinion, just in case.
Asbestos in the Workplace
Most cases of mesothelioma can be traced back to workplace asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a serious workplace hazard, causing exposure and illness in thousands of workers over the years.
Regulations in place today reduce the risks of exposure, but asbestos is still in many places. Some of the types of workers at risk include:
- Construction, repair, renovation, demolition, and maintenance workers
- Auto mechanics
- Shipyard workers
- Navy personnel
- Refinery workers
People who did not work directly with or knowingly around asbestos still may have been exposed on the job. Buildings constructed before the 1970s often contained asbestos, especially in the insulation.
Over time, if the insulation is not maintained, it can crumble and decay, releasing fibers that anyone in the workplace may inhale. Older government buildings, schools, and offices can put workers at risk of exposure.
Non-Occupational Asbestos Exposure
Some people with mesothelioma don’t know where they could have encountered asbestos if they did not work around the material. There are other ways to be exposed. In fact, studies find that approximately 20% of mesothelioma cases result from non-occupational exposure.
Exposure to Asbestos in the Home
Older homes also have asbestos in insulation and other materials. As with workplaces, if those materials are disturbed in any way, exposure can become a risk.
Repair, maintenance work, and renovations are especially risky for asbestos exposure. Anyone in the home, even children, can be exposed to fibers from older materials.
Secondary Asbestos Exposure
This is often how women were exposed. They shook the fibers from their husbands’ work clothes to wash them, week after week for years.
Asbestos is a natural mineral that has been mined for millennia. Even though many mines have shut down, areas with natural deposits can cause exposure. People may also be exposed in their homes and communities when nearby facilities process or contaminate the area with asbestos.
The most famous example of this occurred in Libby, Montana. A W.R. Grace vermiculite mine operated here for many years. The vermiculite contained asbestos, and the fibers caused illness in many workers.
Residents of the nearby town also experienced asbestos exposure, and the population now has elevated rates of asbestos-related illnesses.
Talcum Powder and Mesothelioma in Women
More men than women get a diagnosis of mesothelioma. When women do receive the diagnosis, they may be confused as to the cause. For many men, the apparent cause is workplace exposure. Unless they worked in industries that used asbestos, women often can’t imagine where they encountered asbestos.
Recent trials and reports indicate talcum powder as a potential source of exposure that has impacted women more than men:
- Talcum powder is a product made with talc, a natural mineral that is often found in the ground along with asbestos.
- When companies like Johnson & Johnson use talc, they are supposed to ensure the final product is asbestos-free.
- An investigative report found that the company knew about contaminating asbestos in its Baby Powder for years without warning anyone.
- Many women used these products for decades only to develop ovarian cancer or mesothelioma later.
- Studies have confirmed that this contamination can be a contributing factor or cause of mesothelioma in women.
- Some of these women have been able to prove the exposure in court and win justice and compensation.
Can One Exposure to Asbestos Cause Mesothelioma?
Health experts say there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. However, it is important to understand that the damage asbestos causes that leads to mesothelioma is generally cumulative. You are at much greater risk if you have repeated, cumulative exposure.
A single exposure poses more of a risk if it is severe. A large load of asbestos fibers inhaled during one exposure could cause damage. A small, single exposure is unlikely to cause mesothelioma or another illness.
Are There Other Causes of Mesothelioma Besides Asbestos?
Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma. However, in rare cases, someone might develop mesothelioma from exposure to other materials or substances.
Another mineral in the environment that might trigger mesothelioma is called erionite. It is a type of fibrous mineral called a zeolite that causes similar tissue damage when inhaled. Western states, especially North Dakota, contain some natural deposits.
Radiation therapy is a useful treatment for cancer, but it can also cause cancer. For instance, radiation to the chest for lung cancer might trigger malignant cell growth that leads to pleural mesothelioma.
A virus known as simian virus 40 contaminated polio vaccines in the 1950s and 1960s. Although it is known as a human carcinogen, there was no significant increase in cancer due to the vaccines.
Even so, research has found a connection between SV40 and mesothelioma. This would be a highly unlikely cause of mesothelioma, as it circulates only at very low levels in the human population.
How Can I Find out if I Was Exposed to Asbestos?
When the root cause of mesothelioma isn’t straightforward or obvious, it doesn’t mean the mystery cannot be solved. Asbestos and mesothelioma lawyers are experts in finding the truth behind mesothelioma diagnoses.
They can use their experience and extensive resources to help you track down the source of exposure. A lawyer can then help you determine what course of legal action to take next. This may mean starting a lawsuit or seeking compensation through an asbestos trust.
The most important thing you can do with a diagnosis of mesothelioma is to get expert advice. Start with your medical team and start treatment immediately. Then, turn to an experienced lawyer to help you prove how you were exposed to asbestos and determine liability.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.