Mesothelioma risks and causes

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer but it is insreasingly becoming more common. Over 2,000 people are told that they have mesothelioma every year in the United Kingdom. Men are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed than women as it is thought that many cases have been caused by exposure to asbestos at work. Pleural mesothelioma is more common than peritoneal mesothelioma.

It’s unknown as to what causes the majority of cases of mesothelioma but it’s most often linked to exposure to asbestos. A link has been identified since the beginning of the 18th century between asbestos and lung disease. But the link with mesothelioma has only been known since the 1960’s. The number of cases of mesothelioma is expected to increase over the next two decades due to the heavy use of asbestos in industry in the years following the second world war.

70% - 80% of people diagnosed with mesothelioma say they have been in contact with asbestos, which means that your risk is greater if you were exposed to large amounts asbestos from an early age and/or very long period of time. This is not always the case as there are some people that say they have no history of any heavy exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos is an insulating material that is heat and fire resistant. In the past, asbestos was used widely in the building industry, ship building industry, manufacture of household appliances and the motor industry
A large number of mesothelioma cases occur in men who have worked in manufacturing using asbestos or used asbestos products, particularly in construction or engineering. The use of asbestos was very heavy in the years after 1945. The symptoms of Mesothelioma may not be detected until 15 - 40 years after your exposure to asbestos and the number of cases is expected to peak around 2018 and then start to decline.

Out of the three types of asbestos (blue, brown and white), blue and brown asbestos are the ones linked with mesothelioma and have been banned since the late 1980’s in the UK and the use of all asbestos was banned in 1999 in the UK.

You can breathe asbestos fibres in when you come into contact with asbestos because asbestos is made up of tiny fibres. The fibres work their way into the pleura, lining the lung and irritate the pleura and damage the cells that the pleura are made of. Some of the fibres that have been breathed in can be coughed up and swallowed. This is probably the cause of peritoneal mesothelioma.

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