What are the risk factors for mesothelioma?

The only risk factor for developing mesothelioma is being exposed to asbestos, a fibrous substance that was widely used as a building material from the 1950s to the 1990s. Inhaling asbestos through the nose or mouth can cause inflammation in the lining of the lungs and other parts of the body, as well as asbestosis, a chronic lung condition. Mesothelioma commonly starts 20 to 40 years after exposure. Federal law now regulates the use of asbestos, but you may have been exposed to unsafe levels if you worked, or still work, in certain industries, such as:

  • Carpentry
  • Construction
  • Heating and air-conditioning
  • Insulation
  • Automotive repair involving older brakes and brake pads containing asbestos
  • Milling
  • Mining
  • Plumbing
  • Shipyard work
  • Electrical work

Family members may also be at increased risk because of exposure to asbestos in your clothing or work materials. Because so many military personnel worked in these types of jobs, veterans and service people may be at an increased risk of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is about three times more common in men than in women.

Other risk factors may include:

  • Having an inherited mutation in the BAP1 gene
  • Having had radiation therapy for other cancers, such as Hodgkin lymphoma
What can you do to prevent mesothelioma?

The best way to prevent it is to avoid exposure to asbestos. However, many people have been exposed without knowing it. As long as asbestos is undisturbed, it poses little risk. Never attempt to cut, saw or remove asbestos. If you need to remove it, call a professional.

If you suspect you have been exposed to asbestos, South Miami Hospital’s occupational and environmental medicine program can monitor you for signs of asbestosis (a chronic lung condition) and mesothelioma risk. Early diagnosis and prompt, effective treatment could save your life. Talk to your primary care provider or pulmonologist or contact us for an appointment. Find out more about our occupational and environmental medicine program.

Keep in mind that asbestos exposure can also increase your risk for lung cancer and other health conditions. Take good care of yourself by avoiding tobacco, eating a balanced mix of healthy foods, getting plenty of rest and exercise, and getting regular check-ups. Talk to your primary care provider about your asbestos exposure.

The federal government has taken a number of steps to prevent new cases of mesothelioma. Building owners must follow strict rules regarding demolition and renovation to ensure it is done safely, without exposing anyone to asbestos. Schools must also inspect for asbestos and have a plan to manage risk and prevent exposure.

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