Mesothelioma: Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2020

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing mesothelioma. Use the menu to see other pages.

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. 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 and fire-proof properties, 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 can increase 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.

  • Genetics. About 1% of people with mesothelioma have inherited mesothelioma, meaning the risk of developing the disease was passed from parent to child within a family. Usually, it is due to a mutation or change in 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.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and SignsIt explains what body changes or medical problems mesothelioma can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.