Mesothelioma is primarily caused by Asbestos exposure. Though the exact way asbestos causes Mesothelioma is currently being researched, medical professionals have a number of theories:
Asbestos fibers enter cells and disrupt the function of cellular structures that are essential for normal cell division, causing cellular changes that lead to cancer.
Asbestos causes the production of free radicals. These molecules damage DNA, and cause cells to mutate and become cancerous.
The presence of asbestos causes cells to produce oncoproteins. These molecules cause mesothelial cells to ignore normal cellular division restraints, and this can lead to the development of cancer.
At some point in our lives, nearly all of us have been exposed to asbestos in the air we breathe and the water we drink; from natural deposits in the earth, and from the deterioration of asbestos products around us. Most of us, however, do not become ill as a result of our exposure. More commonly, those who at some point are diagnosed with asbestos disease, have worked in jobs where more substantial exposure occurred over longer periods of time. Nevertheless, cases of mesothelioma have been documented as the result of lesser exposure, affecting family members of workers who came into contact with asbestos and brought it home on their clothing, skin or hair, or affecting those who lived in close proximity to asbestos manufacturing facilities. Symptoms of asbestos disease usually are not be apparent until decades after exposure.
For more than 50 years, products containing asbestos remained unregulated, and the manufacturers of those products continued to prosper, knowing full well that many of the millions of workers who came into contact with their products would ultimately suffer as the result of their actions. Finally, in the late 1970s, the Consumer Products Safety Commission banned the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds and artificial ash for gas fireplaces because the fiber could easily be released during use. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency banned all new use of asbestos, but uses established prior to that time were still allowed. Although awareness of the dangers of asbestos and public concern over the issue have led to a decline in domestic consumption over the years, a total ban on asbestos has not come to fruition. Asbestos is still imported, still used and still dangerous.
Asbestos was used commercially in North America as early as the late 1800s, but its use increased dramatically during the World War II era when shipyards produced massive numbers of ships for the war effort. Since that time, asbestos-containing products were used by the construction and building trades, the automotive industry and the manufacturing industry. All told, more than 5,000 products contained asbestos.
Although it is suggested that the number of mesothelioma cases in the U.S. has reached its peak and has begun to drop, a forecast released by the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER), in April, 2003, projected the total number of American male mesothelioma cases from 2003-2054 to be approximately 71,000. This number, however, does not take into consideration events such as the World Trade Center disaster on September 11, 2001, when millions of New Yorkers were potentially exposed to air filled with carcinogenic asbestos particles. The incidence of mesothelioma cases by state and county are shown in these tables. When the latency period for asbestos disease is factored in, cases of mesothelioma will continue to be diagnosed for years to come.
Asbestos causes irritation and inflammation of mesothelial cells, which results in irreversible scarring, cellular damage, and eventually cancer.
Other Asbestos-Related Cancers Though mesothelioma may be the most commonly-associated cancer with Asbestos exposure, the presence of asbestos fibers in the body can cause a number of other, very serious and life-threatening cancers, such as lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer and colorectal cancer. Please see Gastrointestinal Cancer and Colorectal Cancer for information about these diseases.
According to the National Cancer Institute, asbestos exposure can also increase one's risk of developing kidney, throat, esophagus and gallbladder cancer. In addition to these cancers, asbestos has also been linked to breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer, as well as leukemia and lymphomas.