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Malignant Mesothelioma: Risk factors and primary causes

Mesothelioma is cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Malignant mesothelioma is a severe form of tumor arising from mesothelial cells present in the pleural, pericardial, and peritoneal cavities. Research has shown that 80% of mesothelioma results from asbestos exposure. Erionite is another mineral fiber that is more potent than asbestos and is specifically involved in causing malignant mesothelioma. Erionite is considered less widespread than asbestos, so the number of malignant mesothelioma cases caused by this is also less. Asbestos causes alterations in DNA and induces mesothelial cells to produce reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. Asbestos is also involved in causing inflammation due to the deposition of asbestos fibers. Some risk factors increase the chances of developing mesothelioma. In the following lines, we will discuss risk factors as well as causes that lead to developing malignant mesothelioma:

  • Asbestos:

Asbestos is one of the major risk factors involved in causing mesothelioma. Asbestos are present in the form of tiny fibers in soil and rocks. Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos will have mesothelioma. It depends on the number of exposures and amount of asbestos. Nearly 8-13% of workers dealing with asbestos will develop mesothelioma. When someone breathes near asbestos, asbestos fibers enter their lungs and then into small airways. They can travel to different parts of the body and cause different types of mesothelioma. The following risk factors in asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma:

  • Concentration of asbestos
  • Type of asbestos (serpentine and amphibole) 
  • Duration of exposure
  • Frequency of exposure

The navy uses asbestos in ships and shipyards for resistance to salt corrosion and fireproofing ability. Hence, the navy personnel is at high risk of developing mesothelioma, especially those involved in maintenance and repair. Following a diagnosis of mesothelioma navy personnel can file for compensation under government law. Poor ventilation and tight quarters in naval ships increase the accumulation of asbestos. Secondary asbestos exposure to the family members of veterans can also cause mesothelioma. Secondary exposure includes exposure to asbestos-contaminated clothes. Due to asbestos, other diseases in navy personnel are lung cancer, asbestosis, and laryngeal cancer. 

  • Radiation exposure:

Radiologists and radiology technicians use radiation therapy for cancer treatment. This radiation therapy can lead to the development of mesothelioma in patients who undergo cancer treatment with a high dose of radiation. A high dose of radiation can kill healthy cells and cause mutations in DNA and chromosomes, leading to mesothelioma, but this is very rare. Exposure to atomic energy radiation and receiving radioactive drugs can also increase the risk of developing mesothelioma.

  • Zeolite and Erionite exposure:

Zeolites are mineral chemicals that are similar to asbestos. In some cases, exposure to zeolites can also cause mesothelioma because they are involved in gene mutation. Erionite is an example of zeolite found in the soil and rocks of Turkey and some parts of the USA. Due to the presence of high amounts of Erionite in these areas, the number of mesothelioma cases is very high. Zeolites have very good purification and absorption ability, making them a popular option for many products used in the household and commercial sectors. Mesothelioma caused by zeolites present in household and commercial products is unknown. 

  • Gender and Age:

Men are more likely to get mesothelioma because they work in places where they may have exposure to asbestos, such as construction, repair, and armed forces. Females with mesothelioma can survive longer than males because females are usually exposed to low levels of asbestos, and females have high estrogen hormone levels, which causes slower epithelial mesothelioma progression. 

The risk of mesothelioma increases with age because it takes 20-25 years for mesothelioma to appear after its initial exposure to asbestos minerals. People under the age of 45 have rare chances of developing mesothelioma, while people above 65 have an increased risk of developing the disease. About 2 out of 3 persons with mesothelioma are 65 years or older. 

  • Genetics:

Mesothelioma is caused by a genetic mutation in the BAP1 gene that leads to uncontrolled cell growth and division. BAP1 gene suppresses uncontrolled growth and division of cells and thus suppresses cancer development. Mutation in this gene can increase risks for cancer development because the number of cells increases which forms tumors. A combination of a mutation in the BAP1 gene and exposure to asbestos can increase the chances of developing mesothelioma. About 1 % of mesothelioma is inherited (parents to child), and it runs in families, but it is very rare. 

  • Smoking

Smoking is not directly involved in causing mesothelioma, but it increases the risk of developing mesothelioma. Asbestos exposed individuals who smoke are at twice the risk of developing mesothelioma than others. Smoking damages the lungs and suppresses the immune system. A person diagnosed with mesothelioma must quit smoking because research has shown a relationship between BAP1 gene mutation and smoking. If you were exposed to asbestos but are not diagnosed with mesothelioma, you should quit smoking because you are damaging your lungs with smoking, and this can increase the chances of developing mesothelioma early and in severe form. 


There are many potential risk factors for mesothelioma, but there is not much research on all of them. Asbestos exposure is the major risk factor involved in developing this disease. Always wear personal protective equipment when you are dealing with asbestos. Some risk factors like age and genetics cannot be controlled, but you can prevent others like smoking. If you are exposed to a high dose of asbestos, immediately contact your doctor. Follow safety regulations and learn more about how you can avoid exposure to this mineral. 

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