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What causes mesothelioma?

Most mesothelioma cases are caused by exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that has been used for decades in commercial and industrial products. The National Cancer Institute reports that asbestos exposure in the workplace is reported in 70-80% of all mesothelioma cases. However, individuals may also be exposed to asbestos in their schools, homes or workplace; through contact with a person who works around asbestos or by living in close proximity to an asbestos mine.

When asbestos fibers are disturbed, they can become airborne, increasing the likelihood that they will be inhaled or otherwise ingested by those who live or work around them. These fibers can then become lodged in the mesothelium—the lining that surrounds the body’s internal organs—causing its cells to become abnormal and grow out of control.

Because the risk of a mesothelioma diagnosis increases the longer an individual is exposed to asbestos, workers who regularly come into contact with asbestos or asbestos-containing products are at the greatest risk of developing the disease. However, because any length of asbestos exposure can be hazardous to the health, even individuals who have been exposed for only a short period of time are at an increased risk of developing mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease later in life.

Due to its long incubation period, individuals who have been exposed to asbestos may not begin to develop any mesothelioma symptoms for anywhere from ten to fifty years after they were exposed. Because the symptoms of the disease can be similar to those of other conditions, only a trained physician can determine whether a person who has been exposed to asbestos has developed one of the several types of mesothelioma.

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