The main risk factor for developing mesothelioma is being exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a fibrous substance that was widely used as a building material from the 1950s to the 1990s in the United States. It was valued for its insulating and fire-resistant properties, among others.
Asbestos can cause mesothelioma after someone inhales fibers through the mouth and nose, which can cause inflammation in the lining of the lungs and other parts of the body. If you worked, or still work, in the following industries, you may have been exposed to unsafe levels of asbestos at some point:
- heating and air-conditioning
- shipyard work
- electrical work
- other industries that may have used asbestos (such as for braking systems in cars, airplanes, and heavy equipment)
Because so many military personnel worked in these types of jobs, they are often at greater risk for having been exposed to asbestos and developing mesothelioma as a result.
Mesothelioma is about three times more common in males than females. If you worked in any of these industries, your family members may also be at an increased risk for developing mesothelioma because of being indirectly exposed to asbestos from your clothes or other work materials.
The disease commonly starts 20 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos, which explains in part why pleural mesothelioma occurs in men age 64 and older more often than in men in their 30s.
Other Risk Factors for Mesothelioma
Pioneering research conducted at MSK helped identify other risk factors for mesothelioma:
Inherited mutation in the BAP1 gene
More than half of mesothelioma tumors have mutations in the BAP1 gene, suggesting the mutation leads to tumor growth. Although only a small number of people with mesothelioma have inherited this mutation (meaning it was passed down from a parent), carrying a BAP1 mutation might put you at higher risk
Having had radiation therapy to the chest
Radiation to the chest is often given to treat certain other cancers, such as Hodgkin lymphoma.
Our mesothelioma team can work with you to identify the risk factors that may affect you and your family. We continue to conduct studies that focus on identifying additional risk factors.