Mesothelioma Causes

Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive cancer that many patients have never heard of prior to diagnosis. Patients and their loved ones often wonder how did this happen to me? What causes mesothelioma?

Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma

Research to date has demonstrated conclusively that exposure to asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma. Cases of mesothelioma not caused by asbestos are known as background cases and number an estimated 500 cases per year.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber commonly used the industrial and commercial industries and in domestic products throughout the 20th century. Its innate resistance to heat and fire made it ideal for use in insulation, household appliances and various construction materials. The toxic fibers can cause illness when they are ingested or inhaled into the body where they can become lodged in organs or body cavities. Overtime this can cause infection or inflammation which can lead to the development of an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma.

During the 20th century many of the companies that manufactured asbestos-contaminated products knew of the associated dangers. Unfortunately the dangers were not known by the general public until many years later after many, many people were exposure to asbestos. offers a complimentary packet with detailed information about mesothelioma and causes of the cancer to those interested who fill out the packet request form on this page.

How Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma

It is currently unknown what causes asbestos fibers to trigger a malignant change in the body's mesothelial tissue. It is possible that the malignant change is due to the body's response to the asbestos fibers. In this way, it is much like the symptoms endured with an autoimmune disease. In fact, the mesothelial base membrane may be the site of the malignant transformation instead of the cells themselves. In any case, there is suggestive evidence that reactive oxygen species (ROS) are linked with the malignant transformation process.

Inhalation of asbestos fibers causes local irritation and inflammation of the lung parenchyma (tissue) which then envelopes the deposit site. The fine fibers are two thousand times finer than a human hair. The lungs, once inflamed, and produce cytokines, or chemical red flags, to the rest of the body. The response to cytokine production is to cause the lung and mesothelial cells and tissues to change in preparation for systemic self-defense. This self-defense mechanism causes an interaction with the asbestos fibers and cytokines, hereby inducing the malignant transformation.

Other Possible Causes

Although asbestos exposure is deemed responsible for the vast majority of mesothelioma cases, other causes of mesothelioma have been suggested. There have been cases of mesothelioma caused by exposure to radiation. However, retrospective studies have failed to provide a reliable correlation between the two. While not observed in humans as of yet, viruses such as Simian virus (SV40) have been reported to cause mesothelioma in animals. SV40 was a contaminant of the polio vaccine. SV40 may be seen as a co-factor, like smoking, to asbestos in some patients with mesothelioma. Again, results have not been obtained that would lend strong support to this observation.

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