Cancer is a term used for diseases where abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer is not just one disease, but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer.
Mesothelioma is one type of cancer. Review the FAQs below for more information about mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer which is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. The most common sites for mesothelioma are in the chest or belly.
Asbestos is a group of minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers. These fibers can be separated into thin, durable threads. These fibers are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been used widely in many industries.
The main risk factor for developing mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Most cases of mesothelioma have been linked to asbestos exposure in the workplace.
This exposure may result from the following:
- Mining or milling materials
- Fireproofing the superstructures of building or ships
- Maintaining railroad or automotive brakes
- Insulating pipes and ductwork
- Release of materials to the air by water or demolition
- Being near a road paved with crushed serpentine stone
- Handling the work clothes of asbestos miners or millers
Exposure to asbestos particles in the air is the major risk factor for mesothelioma. This type of cancer happens when harmful cells develop in the protective lining that covers most of the body's internal organs.
As the link between asbestos and mesothelioma became clearer in the late 1970s, use of asbestos went down, and most use stopped by 1989. Experts believe that cases of mesothelioma are not going up because of the drop in asbestos use after this link to cancer was discovered.
The best way to reduce risk of mesothelioma is to limit exposure to asbestos in homes, public buildings, and worksites.
Older homes may have insulation with asbestos or other materials. Individuals concerned their home might have asbestos can consult an expert to determine if there is any asbestos, if it poses a risk, and how to take care of it if it is found.
Individuals who might be exposed to asbestos at work should use protective equipment and follow appropriate safety procedures.