Up to 1 in 10 people with prolonged exposure to asbestos develops mesothelioma. Because it's not easy to determine who has been exposed to asbestos during their lifetime and when, it can be challenging to consider how many people develop mesothelioma because of that exposure. Approximately 3000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma annually in the United States, accounting for less than 0.3% of the total incidence rate of mesothelioma in the U.S. Department of Agriculture that peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but people exposed to asbestos decades ago are still at risk.
According to the American Cancer Society, 80% of mesothelioma cases are due to known exposure to asbestos. Studies have shown that radiation treatment for other types of cancer or certain genetic markers may increase the risk of developing mesothelioma. However, asbestos is still the only proven cause of the disease. The main risk factor for pleural mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos.
In fact, most cases of pleural mesothelioma have been associated with high levels of exposure to asbestos, usually in the workplace. Mesothelioma is quite rare in the United States. Every year, about 3,000 new cases are diagnosed. It can be difficult to tell the difference between mesothelioma and other types of cancer.
You may need a physical exam and other tests, such as imaging tests (a chest x-ray or CT scan) or a biopsy (removal of a small piece of tissue for viewing under a microscope). We know that asbestos causes most cases of pleural mesothelioma. This starts in the two sheets of tissue that cover the lungs called the pleura. Being exposed to large amounts of asbestos for a long period of time increases the risk of developing mesothelioma.
Many people with mesothelioma in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma) have also been exposed to asbestos. The link between mesothelioma and asbestos was found in the 1960s. This is due to the intensive use of asbestos in industry from the end of the Second World War until the mid-1970s. However, some people with mesothelioma say they have no history of exposure to asbestos.
There are 3 main types of asbestos: blue, brown and white. Blue and brown asbestos is closely related to mesothelioma. It is now also thought that white asbestos is harmful. Asbestos is made up of tiny fibers.
You can breathe these fibers when it comes into contact with asbestos. There is some evidence that families of people exposed to asbestos are at increased risk of developing mesothelioma. This is because you can wear asbestos fibers home in your clothes. Smoking also increases the risk of cancer in people who have been exposed to asbestos.
Mesothelioma may not develop until 15 to 60 years after you've been exposed to asbestos. That is why we have seen an increase in cases in recent years. If you work as a painter, you could be at greater risk of developing mesothelioma. This is because until the 1990s some paintings contained asbestos.
You may also have been exposed to asbestos in the workplace. In Turkey, an asbestos-like mineral called erionite has been shown to increase the risk of mesothelioma. But this has not been found anywhere else.