An Asbestos Victims' Guide: What are the Known Mesothelioma Causes?

This guide, designed to educate and empower victims of asbestos and mesothelioma, is comprised of a four-part series with each installment answering an important and common question asked by those affected by a devastating and tragically preventable illness. By understanding your disease, you will be able to better cope with the impact it has on your life and the lives of your loved ones. Being informed about mesothelioma-its presentation, causes, legality, etc.-will also help you make decisions in the coming months about how to best prepare yourself and your family for the future you now face.

For many patients, the news that they have fallen victim to a rare type of cancer called mesothelioma comes as a great shock-leaving them with a seemingly endless list of questions about the disease itself and how they contracted it. Over the course of this series, we will address the following issues and concerns:

“What is malignant pleural mesothelioma?”

“What can I expect after a mesothelioma diagnosis?”

“What are the known mesothelioma causes?”
“What do I need to know about mesothelioma law?”

In this third installment, you’ll learn what causes mesothelioma and who is most at risk for developing the disease. A brief history of asbestos and mesothelioma in the U.S. is also provided.

Part III

Contact with asbestos resulting in mesothelioma causes at least 90 percent of incidences worldwide, with researchers suspecting it as the root in most of the remaining portion as well. Because asbestos cannot be conclusively linked to every known case of mesothelioma, its liability is limited within that fraction. Research into additional possible causes of mesothelioma has been largely inconclusive, though at least four have been identified.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Exposure to a naturally occurring but toxic-to-humans mineral, called asbestos, is known to be the most overwhelmingly documented of all potential mesothelioma causes. Asbestos was used to manufacture a wide variety of consumer products, beginning during the Industrial Revolution and continuing until it was banned or largely restricted by governmental regulation through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Health and Safety Administration during the 1980s.

As many as 70 to 80 percent of documented mesothelioma cases are attributed to exposure to asbestos while on the job. Those who worked in the shipbuilding, construction, automotive repair, and manufacturing industries during the period between the 1930s and late 1970s are identified as being at the highest risk for developing malignant mesothelioma. In the U.S., men are diagnosed at much higher rates than women (approximately four-to-one).

Other Possible Mesothelioma Causes

The American Cancer Society has identified some asbestos-similar minerals called zeolites-as one possible cause of mesothelioma not linked to direct asbestos exposure. A handful of studies have also linked radiation exposure from x-rays performed during the 1950s to a small number of cases involving otherwise unattributed mesothelioma.

Genetics are additionally believed to play some role in predisposing certain individuals to the development of mesothelioma, though it unclear whether genes alone can cause the disease.

Finally, recent research has indicated a clinical connection between mesothelioma and the simian virus 40 (SV40)-an infection that is believed to have been primarily contracted through the administration of contaminated polio vaccines during the late-1950s and early-1960s. SV40 has been linked most consistently with the rarest form of mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the testicles (called the tunica vaginalis).