How Does One Get Mesothelioma?
Unlike other cancers which are thought to be genetic, mesothelioma is not contagious, nor can it be inherited through genetics. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos, a naturally occurring group of strong and elastic minerals that has been mined throughout history for its fire retardant properties . While asbestos are banned in multiple countries, many countries in the world still mine it today, regardless of the dangers associated with asbestos exposure. Asbestos is made of multiple tiny fibers that can be spun and woven together, and is not only extremely resistant to chemicals and heat, it is extremely strong and flexible.
Most people who develop mesothelioma later in life previously worked on jobs where they were exposed to asbestos dust and fibers without protection, or they were in close contact with those who worked with asbestos. Secondary exposure, or indirect exposure is less common than primary exposure, but there have been many documented cases of the family members of asbestos workers who developed the terrible disease from fibers which were carried on the clothes of the worker. Additionally, one should always be careful when working on home or building restoration projects, as older buildings and houses frequently used asbestos for insulation and in other products. In fact, before the dangers of asbestos were known, asbestos were mined and used in countless products, including brake pads, gaskets, electric ovens and hotplate wiring, and even in cement to increase its strength.
When the small asbestos particles are disturbed and released into the air they can remain airborne for extended periods of time. When inhaled these particles become lodged in a person’s lungs (or possibly swallowed and end up in the digestive system and inflame the lining of the abdomen). The lungs then become inflamed, leading to chronic infection and mesothelioma.
There are three basic types of asbestos: blue, white, and brown. White asbestos, or chrysotile, is mined from serpentine rocks. Chrysotile asbestos is most commonly used industrially, and is flexible enough to be woven into fabric. As a matter of fact, it is rumored that chrysotile asbestos were woven into Charlemagne’s tablecloth, which he reportedly threw into his fire after meals in order to clean the cloth. While white asbestos are harmful, there is evidence that it is the least harmful form of asbestos. Brown asbestos, or amosite, is highly biohazardous and is mined throughout South Africa. Blue asbestos, or crocidolite is an amphibole from Australia and South Africa. It is the most dangerous type of asbestos as it is the most fibrous form of the mineral.
Anyone that worked with asbestos or was involved in the mining of asbestos or production of asbestos products was at risk of exposure and should be visiting their doctor regularly to aid in early detection of the disease. Family members and friends who were indirectly exposed to asbestos particles should also heed caution and routinely visit their physician. As mesothelioma cancer doesn’t occur until twenty or thirty years after the initial exposure it makes it hard to diagnose an exact time of exposure. It is estimated that by the year 2015, approximately 3000 people will have been diagnosed with this disease every year.