Mesothelioma: Risk and Factors

A risk factor is something like a behavior, substance or condition that increases the risk of developing cancer. Most cancers are attributable to many risk factors. Exposure to asbestos is the most important risk factor for mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma affects the man much more often than the woman. This is likely because man is more likely to be exposed to asbestos at work.

Mesothelioma occurs 15 to 40 years after the person has been exposed to asbestos. Therefore, mesothelioma is uncommon in people younger than 50 years and its incidence increases with age.

Risk factors are usually ranked from the most important to the least important. But in most cases it is impossible to classify them with absolute certainty. Research reveals that there is no link between smoking and a higher risk of mesothelioma.

Known Risk Factors

There is convincing evidence that the following factors increase your risk of mesothelioma.


Asbestos is the name given to a group of natural minerals. These minerals can be separated into thin, thin fibers that are very fine. When a person inhales these fibers, they can reach the smaller respiratory tracts of the lung as well as the mesothelium. The fibers thus reach the pleura, where they can eventually cause pleural mesothelioma. If they are expelled by coughing and swallowed, asbestos fibers can also seep into the peritoneum. This is the most likely cause of peritoneal mesothelioma.

The link between asbestos and mesothelioma has been well known for many years. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the US National Toxicology Program, all forms of asbestos cause cancer. Most people with mesothelioma have already been exposed to asbestos.

Occupational exposure to asbestos is the most important and commonest risk factor for mesothelioma. The risk is related to the amount of asbestos you were exposed to and the duration of the exposure. Mesothelioma is more likely to occur in a person who has been exposed when young, for a long time and to a large amount of asbestos.

Asbestos has been widely used in building materials and many industries. People who may come into contact with asbestos at work include:

Mining or asbestos plant workers
Construction workers, carpenters and painters
Shipyard workers
Cement workers
Workers in the field of plumbing and heating
Demolition workers
Workers in the automotive industry including brake and clutch repairers
People working in buildings where asbestos was moved during renovations

People living near a factory or asbestos mine are also exposed to asbestos or asbestos dust in the air. The family members of an asbestos worker may also be exposed to asbestos by the asbestos fibers that may be found on the worker’s clothes.

Mesothelioma may, however, occasionally occur in people who have never been exposed to asbestos.


Erionite is recognized as carcinogenic to humans, and is linked to the appearance of pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. Erionite is a natural mineral that belongs to the group of minerals called zeolites. Zeolites are chemically related to asbestos and erionite contains fibers similar to asbestos.

Erionite is commonly found in soil in some areas of Turkey where it is used in building materials. As a result, there is a high rate of mesothelioma in these areas due to exposure to erionite.

Ionizing radiation

People who have been given radiotherapy in the chest or abdomen to treat lymphoma, breast cancer, lung cancer or other types of cancer are more likely to have mesothelioma.
Thorium dioxide (Thoratrast) is a contrast agent
Contrast product
A substance used for certain diagnostic procedures that allows better viewing of body parts on X-rays or other imaging tests. Which was formerly used for imaging examinations. People who have been administered thorium dioxide are more likely to have mesothelioma for many years after exposure to this product. Since thorium dioxide has been shown to increase the risk of certain cancers, this product is no longer used today.

Mutation of the BAP1 gene

The BAP1 gene (BRCA1 associated protein-1) helps control cell growth and can limit the growth of cancer cells. This is called a tumor suppressor gene. A rare mutation in the BAP1 gene may increase the risk of mesothelioma and melanoma of the skin and eye. Health professionals sometimes say people with a genetic mutation to the BAP1 gene that they have BAP1 syndrome.

People who are exposed to asbestos and who have a genetic mutation to the BAP1 gene are even more likely to be one day with mesothelioma.

Unknown Risk Factors

It is not known if there is a link between the risk factors that follow and mesothelioma. This may be because researchers are unable to establish this link or studies have produced different results. More research is needed to determine whether the following are risk factors for mesothelioma:

  • Vacuolating Virus (SV40)
  •  Carbon nanoparticles

Questions to Ask Your Care Team

In order to make the right decisions for you, ask questions about the risks to your care team.

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