What Causes Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral. Because it is durable and fire-resistant, asbestos was popular throughout the 20th century for use in a variety of military, industrial, commercial, and residential applications. Asbestos use peaked in popularity during World War II.
In the late 1970s, the International Agency for Research on Cancer designated asbestos a Group 1 carcinogen (cancer-causing substance). Since then, the use of asbestos has significantly decreased in the U.S., although it is still not entirely banned.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma is still a concern because of its latency period, which is the time between a person’s exposure to asbestos and the onset of the disease. It can take up to 50 years or longer for the symptoms of mesothelioma to develop, meaning that even those who were exposed years ago are still at risk. Asbestos was used in buildings as insulation, many of which are still standing, so it’s also possible to be exposed to asbestos during renovations, demolitions, or natural disasters. This includes buildings on many military bases.
Because it was so widely used for such a long time, millions of Americans — including veterans — were likely exposed to asbestos, either directly or indirectly. (Indirect exposure is also known as ‘secondhand exposure.’) Although other factors, such as zeolites (another group of minerals similar to asbestos), radiation, and the SV40 virus have also been linked to mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos remains the only definitive cause of this rare cancer.
How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma
When asbestos its fibers become airborne, they and can be inhaled or ingested. Then, the asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the organs of the chest or abdomen, called the mesothelium. The asbestos fibers irritate this delicate lining, resulting in irritation and inflammation. This causes scar tissue, which can lead to the development of cancerous tumors along the mesothelium.
There are six types of asbestos. All asbestos can cause mesothelioma, but the two most commonly used forms of the mineral are amphibole and chrysotile.
Amphibole asbestos (also called brown asbestos) has straight fibers and is broken into two subtypes: amosite and crocidolite asbestos.
Chrysotile asbestos (also called white asbestos) has curly fibers and is the most common form of asbestos.
When asbestos usage was at its peak, it was used in many everyday products, some of which may still contain the material. These include:
- Vehicles, commonly brake pads and clutches
- Electrical wiring
- Fireproof blankets and clothing
- Roofing and shingles
- Piping material
- Potting soils
- Talcum powder (found in baby powder and beauty products)
Does Asbestos Cause Other Diseases?
In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos also causes other conditions. These include:
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
- Pharyngeal cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Colon cancer
If you think you may have been exposed to asbestos while serving in the military or afterward or are showing any symptoms of mesothelioma, visit your doctor right away. If you have mesothelioma or another asbestos-caused disease, you should also connect with a mesothelioma attorney who can assist you with filing for VA benefits and seek financial compensation.