The American Cancer Society says there are about 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma each year in the United States, which makes it pretty rare.
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer caused primarily by exposure to asbestos, which affects the protective lining that covers many of the internal organs of the body called the mesothelium.
The rate of mesothelioma in the United States increased from the 1970s to the early 1990s and since then has slowly decreased, which likely resulted from a change in workplace exposure to asbestos, according to the American Cancer Society. The change in frequency was primarily in men. The rate of mesothelioma is lower in women and has been fairly steady for some time.
It’s more common in whites and Hispanics/Latinos than in African Americans or Asian Americans.
In the past, asbestos was used in insulation, and in other building materials such as floor tiles, door gaskets, roofing and patching compounds, and more. Though most asbestos use stopped after 1989, it is still used in some products.
When asbestos fibers are breathed in, some can travel to the ends of the small air passages and reach the lining of the lungs. They can damage the cells lining the lungs and lead to pleural mesothelioma over time. The fibers can also reach the lining of the abdominal cavity and play a part in causing peritoneal mesothelioma.
People who may be at risk for asbestos exposure include some miners, factory workers, makers of insulation, railroad workers, ship builders, gas mask makers, and construction workers. Studies have shown that family members of people exposed to asbestos at work have an increased risk of mesothelioma too, because asbestos fibers are carried home on the clothes of the workers.
Asbestos was used in the insulation of many older homes and public buildings around the country, including some schools. Because the asbestos is contained within the building materials, a large amount is not likely to be found in the air. The risk is thought to be much less unless the asbestos is somehow released into the air, such as when building materials begin to rot over time, or during remodeling or removal.
The risk of getting mesothelioma depends on how much asbestos a person was exposed to and for how long. Mesothelioma take a long time to develop. The time between the first exposure and finding the disease is often between 20 and 50 years. Also, once you have been exposed to asbestos, the risk of mesothelioma appears to be lifelong and it does not go down over time.
Although exposure to asbestos is the main risk factor, it’s not the only one. Other risk factors for mesothelioma include:
- Radiation: There have been a few published reports of mesothelioma that developed after exposure to high doses of radiation to the chest or abdomen as a treatment for another cancer. But this is very rare. There is some evidence linking thorium dioxide (Thorotrast) to mesothelioma. Thorotrast was once used in certain x-rays. It has not been used for many decades.
- SV40 virus: Some studies have suggested that infection with simian virus 40 (SV40) might increase the risk of mesothelioma. Some polio vaccines made between 1955 and 1963 were contaminated with SV40. Research into this is still going on.
- Age: Mesothelioma is rare in people under age 45. The chance of having it goes up with age. About 3 out of 4 people with mesothelioma are over 65 years old.
- Gender: The disease affects men about four times more often than women. This is most likely because men more often worked in jobs with heavy exposure to asbestos.
If you or a loved one have contracted mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure, contact Lopez McHugh for a free consultation.
For more information about mesothelioma, see here: