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Malignant mesothelioma is a form of cancer that is typically associated with exposure to carcinogens found in asbestos, a fibrous material once commonly used in home insulation, auto parts, and in the manufacture of vinyl products (such as flooring). Although mesothelioma is quite rare, when it does strike, it does so aggressively, with tumors growing and spreading at an alarming rate. Often mesothelioma goes undiagnosed until it has reached the later stages, leaving its victims with few options outside of palliative care so early detection is crucial in the efficacy of treatment.
Exposure often occurs because of work
Exposure to asbestos was most common in people who worked in certain industries that brought them into constant contact with asbestos-containing materials. People who worked in home construction, for example, often worked without adequate protection against asbestos inhalation and ingestion while installing home insulation containing the material. Also, asbestos was seen in the “popcorn ceilings” so popular during the 1970s and 1980s. Factory workers were also often exposed to asbestos on a daily basis for hours at a time because it was prominently used in the manufacture of auto parts and vinyl flooring, so
Exposure can come from non-occupational sources
There are pockets across the globe of people who are being diagnosed with mesothelioma, but who never worked a day in their lives in a factory producing asbestos-containing products, nor in construction. Because of the nearness of airborne asbestos fibers some towns where asbestos processing plants and factories have been defunct for years are now seeing an increase in the incidence of malignant mesothelioma.
Since mesothelioma has a long latency period (the time from initial carcinogenic exposure to the actual diagnosis based on symptoms), many diagnoses are not made until years and even decades after the time when the person was exposed to the asbestos fibers that caused their cancer to develop.
California: a naturally-occurring asbestos hot spot
The state of California is geologically comprised, in large part, of a type of rock called “ultramafic rock,” which can give rise to naturally-occurring asbestos. According to reports from X, 44 out of California’s 58 counties contain ultramafic rock in their crust, rendering the state a hot spot for naturally-occurring asbestos. Although asbestos is not dangerous to living creatures when it remains below the surface of the earth, when deposits of asbestos are exposed to the elements, erosion by wind and water can carry the fibers aloft, thus allowing them to be breathed in by any people who may be nearby—and increase their risk of developing mesothelioma exponentially.
Mesothelioma in children
There have been reports of mesothelioma occurring in children who have never had direct contact with asbestos themselves. However, some cases of childhood mesothelioma have been seen in children whose only exposure to asbestos was the fibers leftover on the surface of their parent’s clothing at the end of his or her workday while other children who lived near asbestos-producing factories or deposits of asbestos that were exposed to the elements were at greater risk of developing the disease. Thus, even secondhand asbestos exposure in relatively minute quantities can carry a heavy risk of mesothelioma development.
Other risk factors
Asbestos is not the only risk factor involved in the development of malignant mesothelioma. There are several others, some of which are only recently being discovered.
Other carcinogenic fibers
Recent research has shown that asbestos may not be the only fiber that gives rise to mesothelioma cancer. Chabazite and erionite are two of several fibrous minerals occurring in nature with a similar molecular structure to asbestos. There have been reports of people living near large erionite deposits developing mesothelioma in spite of never having been exposed to asbestos at all.
Genetics seems to play a large role in mesothelioma development, as well, for some people who had daily exposure to asbestos over the course of decades were never diagnosed with mesothelioma in spite of their long-term exposure.
Multiple risk factors combined
Studies have shown those most likely to develop mesothelioma are those people with multiple risk factors. For example, people who worked with asbestos and who smoked cigarettes for a long period of time carry a greater risk of developing mesothelioma than people who worked with asbestos but did not smoke.
Mesothelioma is most commonly diagnosed in males who are at or past the age of retirement. Although there is an association between age and gender and the development of mesothelioma, it is thought that this correlation is due to the long period of dormancy that mesothelioma has, and the fact that during the time when asbestos insulation was most commonly used in homes, many construction workers handling it were young males, having since retired and become symptomatic, decades after their days of being exposed to asbestos on a regular basis.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.