Mesothelioma Causes

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. This naturally occurring mineral was once used in thousands of products across many industries like construction before the dangers were more widely understood. Learn how asbestos causes mesothelioma, how to prevent exposure, and how those diagnosed with mesothelioma can get help.

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What Causes Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Millions of people were put at risk of asbestos between the 1930s and early 1980s, since this fiber-like material was used in industries like construction, shipbuilding, and manufacturing before the dangers were fully understood.

When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, they can release microscopic fibers into the air that can be breathed in or swallowed by anyone nearby. Once in the body, the fibers can become lodged in different parts of the mesothelium, which is the body’s internal lining, and can remain there forever.

Did You Know?

There are six types of asbestos fibers — actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, chrysotile, crocidolite, and tremolite — and all of them can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases.

Over time, the fibers cause cell damage, which can trigger the growth of mesothelioma cancer tumors 10 to 50 years after exposure.

If you were exposed to asbestos and diagnosed with mesothelioma, our on-staff nurses can connect you with top doctors and financial assistance options. Contact our nurses now to get started.

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Types of Mesothelioma Caused by Asbestos

There are four types of mesothelioma, and all four are caused by asbestos.

  1. Malignant pleural mesothelioma: The most common type that develops after asbestos is breathed in and lodges in the lining of the lungs (pleura)
  2. Peritoneal mesothelioma: The second most common type that develops in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) after asbestos is swallowed
  3. Pericardial mesothelioma: A rare type of mesothelioma that develops in the lining of the heart (pericardium)
  4. Testicular mesothelioma: Also a rare type of mesothelioma that develops in the lining around the testicles (tunica vaginalis)

Other Conditions Caused by Asbestos

There are other conditions that can be caused by asbestos, including:

  • Asbestosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Pleural effusion (fluid buildup in the lung lining)
  • Pleural plaques (protein buildup in lung lining)

Some of these conditions, like asbestosis and pleural plaques, can occur at the same time as or before mesothelioma develops. In fact, pleural effusions can be an early mesothelioma symptom for some patients.

Mesothelioma Risk Factors

Risk factors for mesothelioma are not direct mesothelioma causes. Instead, these factors may increase an individual’s likelihood of being exposed to asbestos or heighten their risk of developing the cancer if they are already exposed.

Risk factors for mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases include:

  • Age: It can take decades for symptoms to develop, making it more likely for people to be diagnosed when they are older. Additionally, people over the age of 65 are more likely to develop mesothelioma because they might have worked with or around it before the dangers were fully known.
  • Family history: If someone in your family had mesothelioma after working in a high-risk asbestos occupation, you might have been exposed to asbestos secondhand when fibers traveled home on work clothes..
  • Gender: Men are more likely to develop mesothelioma because they commonly worked in high-risk asbestos occupations when asbestos was widely used.
  • Gene mutations: Some people may be genetically predisposed to develop cancers like mesothelioma if they have a mutation in the BAP1 gene, according to the National Cancer Institute.
  • Occupation: Certain occupations, like construction, auto repair, and military service, put people at risk of asbestos exposure every day, greatly increasing their risk of the cancer.

While not considered linked to the development of mesothelioma, smoking can worsen the damage caused by asbestos. For this reason, those exposed to asbestos are urged to quit smoking to protect their health.

If you were exposed to asbestos, it is important to get routine screening for mesothelioma even if these risk factors may not apply to you. Early detection can help you get prompt treatment that can greatly improve your life expectancy. Connect with our nurses now for help.

How Does Asbestos Exposure Cause Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma often takes decades to develop, even after just one moment of asbestos exposure. Here’s a breakdown of how asbestos causes mesothelioma.

1. Asbestos Disturbed and Fibers Released Into the Air

Asbestos exposure typically begins when a victim encounters asbestos-containing materials in their work environment. This most often takes place in occupational settings or when inside old building structures that were built with asbestos-containing products.

2. Asbestos Fibers Are Inhaled or Swallowed

Once asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air. These fibers can be breathed in or swallowed, often unnoticed, and may remain in the body for years.

3. Asbestos Damages a Person’s Healthy Cells

Asbestos fibers are sharp and durable and can penetrate deep into the body’s tissues. Over 10-50 years, they cause physical damage, chronic inflammation, and DNA mutations in mesothelial cells.

4. Mesothelioma Tumors Develop

After decades of damage, cancerous cells can begin to form and cause uncontrolled growth of cells, forming malignant mesothelioma tumors.

The long latency period between exposure and diagnosis is one of the most challenging aspects of mesothelioma. In many cases, this leads to a late-stage diagnosis of the disease, leaving patients and health care practitioners with limited treatment options.

Where Asbestos Exposure Happens

Asbestos exposure can occur anywhere, ranging from the workplace to daily living.

Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Occupational asbestos exposure is the most common way people were exposed to asbestos products. Asbestos was used in thousands of products for its heat resistance and durability.

Some workers came in contact with asbestos products every day, including:

  • Auto mechanics
  • Carpenters
  • Demolition workers
  • Electricians
  • Insulation installers
  • Miners
  • Pipefitters
  • Plumbers
  • Shipyard workers

Military Exposure

Veterans with mesothelioma make up about one-third of mesothelioma cases. This is because every branch of the U.S. military used asbestos in its bases, vehicles, and more prior to the 1980s.

The use of asbestos was especially heavy in U.S. Navy ships, putting Navy veterans at great risk of exposure and mesothelioma.

Other military positions at risk of exposure include:

  • Air Force personnel, like gunners, mechanics, and technicians
  • Army personnel, especially mechanics, electricians, and technicians
  • Coast Guard personnel who worked on ships built with asbestos products
  • Marine personnel, often exposed on ships or through other equipment built with asbestos-containing materials
  • Navy personnel, especially those serving on vessels and shipbuilders

Secondhand Asbestos Exposure

Even if you did not work directly with asbestos, it is still possible to have been exposed to asbestos secondhand.

For example, if a family member worked in a high-risk asbestos occupation, they may have brought home asbestos fibers on their clothing, hair, or skin.

When they changed their clothes, they could have released the asbestos fibers into the air at home, which put the whole household at risk.

Other Locations at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Outside of workplace and military exposure, there are several ways people can be exposed to asbestos fibers.

These include:

  • Older public buildings: Schools, hospitals, and government buildings constructed before asbestos regulations were in place may contain asbestos materials.
  • Residential homes: Older homes often have asbestos-containing materials in roofing, insulation, flooring, and siding.
  • Abandoned industrial operations or mines: While it is rare, some old mines had so much asbestos contamination that the nearby soil and water may still be contaminated.

If you or someone you love was exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma, we can help you access treatment and other resources. Speak with our on-staff nurses today to see how we can help.

Speak With a Mesothelioma Nurse
  • Find Top Doctors and Treatments
  • Connect You With Clinical Trials
  • Answer Medical Questions
Talk with Amy

Amy Fair
20+ Years Helping
Mesothelioma Patients

Ways to Reduce Mesothelioma Risk

The only way to prevent mesothelioma is to prevent exposure to asbestos.

You can lower the risk of asbestos exposure in your community by:

  • Adhering to safety regulations and providing proper training to employees working with or around asbestos
  • Advocating for strict regulations and bans on asbestos use in your town or city
  • Ensuring asbestos removal and handling are carried out by trained professionals following established safety guidelines
  • Getting regular health checkups to monitor for any asbestos-related conditions, such as mesothelioma
  • Identifying and avoiding asbestos (seek professional inspection and removal if necessary)
  • Preventing secondhand exposure by removing asbestos-contaminated clothes in a safe environment
  • Promoting awareness of the risks associated with asbestos exposure and educating communities about safe handling practices
  • Knowing your legal options and seeking compensation if you got sick after being exposed to asbestos

Get Help for a Mesothelioma Diagnosis Today

There is only one mesothelioma cause: exposure to asbestos fibers. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, there is hope.

Our team of mesothelioma nurses can connect you with some of the top doctors performing the most advanced treatments. We can also find clinical trials near you and connect you with financial support resources so you can afford treatment and other expenses.

You don’t fight this battle alone. Connect with experienced mesothelioma nurses today to get help for your mesothelioma diagnosis.

Causes of Mesothelioma FAQs

What is most likely to cause mesothelioma?

Asbestos is the only mesothelioma cause. The fibers, when breathed in or swallowed, can remain in the body for decades, causing irritation and scarring.

Eventually, this damage causes cells to become cancerous and develop mesothelioma tumors.

Those who mostly get mesothelioma worked with asbestos at their jobs for long periods. Construction workers, shipbuilders, and asbestos miners are among those at the highest risk.

Military veterans, especially those who served in the Navy, are also at an elevated risk. However, anyone with a history of asbestos exposure could develop mesothelioma, regardless of their occupation.

The early warning signs of mesothelioma can be subtle and often mimic symptoms of other less severe conditions.

Common early symptoms include persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue.

However, because mesothelioma has a long latency period, these symptoms may not appear until the disease has reached an advanced stage.

Seek medical attention if you have a history of asbestos exposure and experience any of these symptoms.

The best way to keep yourself safe from asbestos is to not touch or disturb asbestos-containing products in the home. If you believe asbestos is in your home, talk with a professional to see if the removal is the best course of action.

If you have already been exposed to asbestos, talk with your doctor about getting routine screenings for mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases. Detecting these conditions early can greatly improve treatment outcomes.

Lung Cancer Group was established by a team of caring advocates so those with lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases can get the help they deserve. Our site provides the most accurate and up-to-date information about lung cancer, its link to asbestos, and financial compensation available to patients. Contact us to learn more and get assistance.

  1. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Malignant Mesothelioma Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention. Retrieved January 3, 2024, from
  2. American Lung Association. (2023). Learn About Mesothelioma. Retrieved January 3, 2024, from
  3. American Lung Association. (2023). What is Asbestos? Retrieved January 3, 2024, from
  4. Environmental Protection Agency. (2023). Learn About Asbestos. Retrieved January 3, 2024, from
  5. National Cancer Institute. (2021). Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk. Retrieved January 3, 2024, from
  6. National Cancer Institute. (2023). Malignant Mesothelioma Treatment (Adult) (PDQ®)–Patient Version. Retrieved January 3, 2024, from
  7. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (n.d.). Asbestos. Retrieved January 3, 2024, from:
  8. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2023). Asbestos Exposure. Retrieved January 3, 2024, from
  9. World Health Organization. (2018). Asbestos: elimination of asbestos-related diseases. Retrieved January 3, 2024, from
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