What Are the Risk Factors, or Who Gets Mesothelioma?
When you are experiencing symptoms of mesothelioma, you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, or you have a loved one who has recently received a diagnosis, you may be trying to understand the risk factors for mesothelioma and who is diagnosed with this type of cancer. There are several key risk factors, although the most significant risk factor is exposure to asbestos. While exposure to asbestos may significantly increase a person’s risk of developing mesothelioma, it is also important to remember and to know that mesothelioma can affect anyone regardless of age, background, sex, gender, or exposure to specific risk factors. If you have symptoms of mesothelioma, or if you have any of the risk factors, it is important to seek medical attention and to receive a diagnosis from a health care provider. Understanding risk factors can also allow you to take preventive measures to reduce your risk of developing mesothelioma in the future.
Asbestos Exposure is the Most Common Risk Factor for Mesothelioma
Exposure to asbestos is the most common risk factor when it comes to developing mesothelioma. In order to understand how asbestos exposure can increase a person’s risk of developing mesothelioma, it is essential to learn more about asbestos and how this naturally occurring substance can cause significant harm to the human body. Not everybody who is exposed to asbestos will develop mesothelioma, but exposure to asbestos is the most significant risk factor for predicting who will get mesothelioma, to be clear.
What is Asbestos?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asbestos is “a mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil.” While asbestos occurs naturally, it was also used for decades in a variety of materials to which people were routinely exposed. Indeed, as the EPA explains, “because of its fiber strength and heat resistance, asbestos has been used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant.” Asbestos was also used in “a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings.”
How Do People Get Exposed to Asbestos?
People who are at the greatest risk of developing mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure are exposed repeatedly and for extended periods of time. Most people who have a history of asbestos exposure worked in a profession or industry in which asbestos exposure was common. For example, military veterans, especially of the U.S. Navy, may have been exposed to asbestos while working in a shipyard or in a ship boiler room. Construction workers (especially those who do demolition work on older homes or worked previously with insulation materials before asbestos was banned), asbestos abatement workers who remove asbestos, and brake repair workers are at particularly high risk of asbestos exposure in their jobs.
People can also be exposed to asbestos secondhand, or through mesothelioma fibers that a worker brings home on their clothes or work tools. In addition, people who do not work with asbestos but are in buildings where asbestos was used can be exposed during renovation work. Asbestos was used commonly in the attic and wall insulation, vinyl floor tiles, roofing materials, shingles, textured paint and wall patches, heat-resistant paper around wood-burning stoves, hot water, and steam pipes, oil and coal furnaces, and vehicle parts. Any kind of renovation work can release asbestos fibers into the air. Indeed, as the EPA clarifies, when asbestos-containing materials are disturbed in maintenance work or remodeling, or demolition, people in the area can suffer from asbestos exposure.
Radiation Treatment is a Risk Factor for Developing Malignant Mesothelioma
While radiation can be necessary after a cancer diagnosis for a variety of types of cancer, having a history of radiation treatment can also be a risk factor for mesothelioma. In most cases, links between radiation for cancer treatments (other than mesothelioma) and subsequent diagnoses of mesothelioma are rare, and they typically occur when a patient has been exposed to particularly high doses of radiation, according to the American Cancer Society. In most circumstances, the patient has received radiation treatment that targeted the chest or the abdomen. Previous radiation treatment can also put a patient at higher risk of developing other types of cancers, but it is important to know that connections between previous radiation treatment and mesothelioma diagnoses are rare.
Simian Virus 40 (SV40) Can Increase a Person’s Risk for Mesothelioma
Some research has suggested that infection with Simian virus 40 (or SV40) can also increase a person’s risk of developing mesothelioma later in life. The Simian virus 40 was known to contaminate some polio vaccines that were administered between the years 1954 and 1963. Typically when Simian virus 40 is connected to a mesothelioma diagnosis, the person also had a history of asbestos exposure. According to the American Cancer Society, the link between the SV40 virus and mesothelioma is the subject of ongoing research, and “most experts agree that at this time we still don’t know if SV40 is responsible for some mesotheliomas.”
Since SV40 may be a risk factor, however, it is important to understand how a person could have contracted this virus. It was originally found in rhesus monkeys, but it entered the human population in the mid-twentieth century. Polio vaccines after 1963 were not at risk of containing this virus, but many people who received a polio vaccine between 1954 and 1963 may have been infected with the virus. In addition, people who were infected with the virus could have spread it to others through breast milk, semen, and human feces. It is important to remember that researchers do not yet fully understand the possible links between SV40 and mesothelioma, so infection with this virus should not be considered to be a risk factor that is similar to asbestos exposure.
Exposure to Zeolites Can Be a Risk Factor for Developing Mesothelioma
While zeolites are much less common in terms of human exposure than asbestos, the American Cancer Society reports that exposure to zeolites can be linked to a malignant mesothelioma diagnosis. Like asbestos, zeolites are naturally occurring minerals, and they are related to asbestos. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), more specifically, zeolites “are hydrated aluminosilicates of the alkaline and alkaline-earth metals,” and approximately 40 natural zeolites have been identified over the last two centuries.
There are different types of zeolites, and they are found in different parts of the world occurring naturally, while some synthetic zeolites are found in various types of products. One common type of zeolite is erionite, and it is known to exist in specific areas of the United States that include Arizona, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, and Utah. In addition to naturally occurring zeolites, the USGS explains that both natural and synthetic zeolites are used in commercial products and may be found in “pet litter, animal feed, horticultural applications (soil conditioners and growth media), and wastewater treatment.” If a person is exposed to zeolites like erionite, they may be more likely to develop mesothelioma.
Age Can Be a Factor in a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
While malignant mesothelioma can affect younger people and can, in some cases, even be diagnosed in children, older age is usually a factor in mesothelioma diagnosis. In most cases, a diagnosis of mesothelioma is especially rare if you are under the age of 45, and a majority of malignant mesothelioma cases, especially pleural mesothelioma, are diagnosed in patients who are at least age 65. Indeed, approximately two-thirds of all malignant mesothelioma cases involving mesothelioma in the patient’s chest are diagnosed in patients aged 65 and older.
Age is also a risk factor for many other types of cancer beyond mesothelioma.
Genetic Predisposition Can Put You at Increased Risk of Developing Malignant Mesothelioma
In some cases, a risk factor for mesothelioma may be your genes or certain genetic factors or a genetic predisposition. The American Cancer Society clarifies that a specific type of genetic mutation that occurs in the BAP1 gene has been linked to an increased risk of a mesothelioma diagnosis, and this specific type of genetic mutation is passed on in families. It is important to know, however, that this type of BAP1 genetic mutation is rare and is not present in a majority of mesothelioma patients.
Beyond the specific BAP1 genetic mutation that can be passed on from parents to children in families, your genetic predisposition can also determine your susceptibility to asbestos, including how your body will handle exposure to or encounter asbestos fibers, and what reaction your body will have to that exposure. In some cases, the way a person is genetically built to respond to asbestos exposure can mean that some people are more likely, genetically, to develop mesothelioma when exposed to asbestos than others. It is possible that additional research will be able to provide patients with more information about the risks of developing mesothelioma following asbestos exposure based on their genetic makeup or genetic predispositions. In addition, a better understanding of the link between genetics, asbestos exposure, and mesothelioma may provide additional treatment options for patients who are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma.