Oncologist-approved cancer information from the American Society of Clinical Oncology
Printer Friendly
Download PDF


This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 3/2013
Risk Factors

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about what factors increase the chance of this type of cancer. To see other pages in this guide, use the colored boxes on the right side of your screen, or click “Next” at the bottom.                             

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The following factors can raise a person’s risk of developing mesothelioma:

Asbestos exposure. Between 70% to 80% of people diagnosed with mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a group of natural minerals found in the earth. Because of its strong, flexible fibers, asbestos was once commonly added to cement, insulation, roof shingles, and other products. People involved in making products containing asbestos or installing or maintaining these products can breathe in or swallow the asbestos fibers. These fibers can also be carried in asbestos dust on clothing or personal items, exposing family members of the workers to potentially high levels of the minerals. Current safety regulations require people who work with asbestos to wear protective equipment and to shower and change clothes before leaving the workplace.

Smoking. By itself, smoking does not increase the risk of mesothelioma, but the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure highly increases the risk of certain types of cancer in the lungs.

Radiation exposure. Radiation exposure may cause mesothelioma, such as when a patient has previously received radiation therapy for lymphoma.

Zeolite exposure. Exposure to a type of mineral called zeolite may cause mesothelioma.

Genetics. Sometimes, mesothelioma can be inherited (passed from parent to child within a family). Usually, it is due to a mutation (change) on a gene called BAP1.

Even though some people with mesothelioma have no known risk factors, many people who develop mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos. Therefore, it is important to always wear protective gear and follow safety precautions when working with asbestos.

Choose “Next” (below, right) to continue reading this guide to learn about what symptoms this type of cancer can cause. Or, use the colored boxes located on the right side of your screen to visit any section.

© 2005-2014 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). All rights reserved worldwide.

Connect With Us: