Does Mesothelioma Develop In Everyone Who Has Been Exposed to Asbestos?

Asbestos exposure and mesothelioma
U.S. Navy photo by Mario T. Icari/RELEASED

Exposure to asbestos mineral is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that attacks the mesothelium linings of the lungs, abdomen, heart, and sometimes, testicles. Asbestos minerals are made up of fine, microscopic fibers that are resistant to heat, fire, and many harsh chemicals.

For years, asbestos has been used in hundreds of products throughout the world. Some of these products include building materials, manufactured goods, industrial machinery, friction products, laboratory equipment, and many other products.

Due to its extensive use, thousands of people have as a result developed mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Even after its use was banned a few years ago, asbestos is still affecting thousands of people each year, with thousands of mesothelioma-related deaths occurring.

Because of its long latency period (usually 20-50 years), mesothelioma is often difficult to treat. At the time of diagnosis, the cancer usually has spread to surrounding organs, making it difficult to treat using standard treatment methods like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. Treatment of advanced mesothelioma is often focused on alleviating the patient’s pain and discomfort, and improving their life quality.

Does Everyone Exposed To Asbestos Get Mesothelioma?

Exposure to asbestos is not always automatically dangerous. In other words, not everyone who is exposed to this mineral gets mesothelioma. This is because the danger caused by asbestos exposure is determined by factors such as;

  • Amount of asbestos an individual has been exposed to.
  • Duration of exposure (how long an individual was exposed to asbestos).
  • Type of asbestos fiber an individual has been exposed to.
  • Individual risk factors such as pre-existing lung diseases and smoking.
  • Genetic factors

Let’s discuss each one of these factors:

1. Dose/Amount of Asbestos an Individual has been Exposed to

The chance of developing asbestos cancer is directly proportional to the duration and amount of asbestos exposure that an individual sustains. For example, if an individual has been exposed to asbestos fiber just once, their chances of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases are low.

On the other hand, individuals who are frequently exposed to high amounts of asbestos fiber are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma. Heavy exposure to asbestos has been identified in people working in asbestos mining and milling, shipbuilding trades, insulation work in the construction and building trades, manufacturing of asbestos textiles and related asbestos products, demolition work, drywall removal, firefighters, automobile workers, among others.

Heavy exposure to asbestos fibers has also been identified in family members of workers who have been exposed to this dangerous mineral. Federal law is now regulating workplace practices to reduce the possibility of asbestos fibers being brought home.

But still, how asbestos affects each individual is different. For example, some people who have been exposed to large amounts of asbestos do not get mesothelioma. Likewise, there are others who have been exposed to low amounts of asbestos and get mesothelioma.

2. Frequency of Asbestos Exposure

The risk of developing mesothelioma has also been found to be directly proportional to the frequency of asbestos exposure. This means that individuals who have been exposed to asbestos for a long period of time are more likely to develop mesothelioma compared to those with brief exposure.

For example, a worker who has worked in the asbestos mining industry for over 10 years is at a greater risk of developing mesothelioma. The case is different for someone who has been in contact with an asbestos product only once.

3. The type of asbestos fiber a person has been exposed to

Asbestos is basically a group of six types of minerals including chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite. These minerals belong to the serpentine and amphibole families.

Some asbestos minerals from the amphibole family as more hazardous compared to those from the serpentine family.

4. Individual risk-factors

Individual risk factors like smoking and pre-existing lung diseases have been found to increase the risk of developing mesothelioma. For example, numerous studies have indicated that cigarette smokers who have been exposed to asbestos are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases compared to non-smokers.

People with pre-existing lung diseases are also more likely to develop asbestos cancer compared to those without the diseases. This is a clear indicator that not everyone who becomes exposed to asbestos gets mesothelioma.

5. Genetic factors

While asbestos exposure levels and the duration of exposure play a crucial, it has been found that some people are more susceptible to asbestos fibers than others. One study evaluated two families with high incidences of asbestos cancer and the mutation of the BAP1 gene. The study discovered that family members who had contracted the disease carried the BAP1 gene mutation.

Further studies have revealed that the BAP1 mutation can be inherited from birth, or can develop at a later stage when the cells become malignant.

It’s pretty clear that not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos gets mesothelioma. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a medical checkup if you suspect of possible exposure. If diagnosed early, mesothelioma can be treated.

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