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Mesothelioma without asbestos exposure is rare but possible. Asbestos exposure is the number one risk factor and the most common underlying cause of mesothelioma. There are possible explanations for diagnoses without known exposure.
What Causes Cancer?
Mesothelioma, like most cancers, results from a combination of genetics and environmental exposures. The genetic factor may explain why some people can experience long-term asbestos exposure but not develop cancer.
Asbestos Is the Number One Risk Factor for Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is strongly associated with long-term asbestos exposure. People who worked jobs with regular exposure to asbestos-containing materials have higher rates of mesothelioma.
Even people with secondhand asbestos exposure have an increased risk of a mesothelioma diagnosis. Secondhand exposure includes coming into contact with fibers on a family member’s clothing, for instance.
Is Asbestos the Only Thing That Causes Mesothelioma?
People who are genetically predisposed to mesothelioma and exposed to asbestos over the long term have the highest risk of mesothelioma.
Unknown Asbestos Exposure
The simplest explanation is simply exposure that a person does not realize occurred. It could be workplace, secondhand, or environmental exposure.
Many women diagnosed with mesothelioma experienced secondhand exposure. Their husbands worked around asbestos and unknowingly brought fibers into the home.
Simian Virus 40
The SV40 virus doesn’t generally produce symptoms in humans, but it may increase vulnerability to mesothelioma. Many people who received the polio vaccine in the 1950s and 1960s were accidentally exposed to SV40.
Radiation therapy is a treatment for cancer that may also trigger new cancers. Radiation to the chest or abdomen could cause pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma.
Researchers have discovered an asbestos-like mineral called erionite. Erionite has a similarly fibrous structure that can cause tissue damage.
Studies of people who live near erionite deposits in Europe, parts of Turkey, and North America indicate it could cause mesothelioma.
What Causes Peritoneal Mesothelioma Besides Asbestos?
There are three main types of mesothelioma. The most common is pleural mesothelioma, which forms around the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common type and develops in the abdomen. Pericardial mesothelioma is rare and develops around the heart.
Another mystery of mesothelioma without asbestos exposure is the cause of peritoneal mesothelioma. Research indicates that half of all cases of peritoneal mesothelioma occur in people with no known asbestos exposure.
In comparison, at least 80% of people with the pleural form of mesothelioma have a history of asbestos exposure.
More women develop the peritoneal form. One explanation for the discrepancy is secondhand exposure. Wives of men who worked around asbestos may have been exposed to fibers on their clothing.
Other explanations include SV40, radiation treatment, erionite, and other environmental exposures. A more recent explanation is talcum powder, which women use more commonly than men.
Understanding Mesothelioma Causes Leads to Better Outcomes
Early treatment gives mesothelioma patients better outcomes. As researchers uncover more causes and risk factors, doctors can make earlier diagnoses, leading to more treatment options.
This research is also important for mesothelioma prevention. If there are other risk factors, such as talcum powder, understanding them and increasing public awareness should prevent more mesothelioma diagnoses.
How Did I Get Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a devastating diagnosis. It can also be frustrating if you don’t understand how you got this rare cancer. If you don’t know of any asbestos exposure in your past, you might wonder how this happened.
Your medical team can help you explore potential causes, but another important source is an asbestos lawyer. They have experience working with mesothelioma patients and have the knowledge and resources to track down any exposure in your past.
The right lawyer might be able to help you get answers, but there are no guarantees. If they can help you track down a source of asbestos exposure, they can also help you seek compensation for your medical expenses.
Mesothelioma is still a mystery in many ways. If you have related symptoms or any risk factors, get screened early and get a second opinion if necessary.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
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.