Mesothelioma Risk Factors

CT scan of mesothelioma tumor.

The biggest risk factor for developing mesothelioma is being exposed to asbestos.

What is 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.

If you worked, or still work, in the following industries, you may have been exposed to unsafe levels of asbestos at some point:

  • carpentry
  • construction
  • heating and air-conditioning
  • insulation
  • milling
  • mining
  • plumbing
  • shipyard work
  • electrical work
  • other industries that may have used asbestos

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.

Asbestos can cause mesothelioma as a person inhales the fibers through the mouth and nose, which can cause inflammation in the lining of the lungs and other parts of the body.

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

At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center we’ve also helped identify other risk factors for mesothelioma:

Our mesothelioma team can work with you to identify the risk factors that may affect you and your family.