Mesothelioma risk is affected by many factors, both internal and external. Although the biggest and most widely known risk factor for developing the disease is exposure to asbestos, there are several other factors that should be considered when trying to prevent mesothelioma or when making a diagnosis. These include an inherited disposition to cancer or mesothelioma, smoking, and exposure to the simian virus 40.
In most instances of mesothelioma, asbestos exposure is the primary cause. Asbestos was used in the manufacturing of insulation, brakes, and other materials. When it is broken up, such as when insulation is removed, dust particles enter the air. If these particles are inhaled, the person's mesothelioma risk goes up, although researchers do not currently know exactly why.
Other mesothelioma risk factors come into play when they are present in conjunction with asbestos exposure. This helps explain why some individuals who are exposed to large amounts of asbestos do not contract the disease, while others who have been around it very briefly do. These others factors may exacerbate the effects of asbestos irritation in the lungs, although this theory has not be definitively proven.
One potential mesothelioma risk factor is a genetic disposition to cancer and other diseases. Those with family members who have suffered lung cancer or mesothelioma are at the highest risk for developing the illness themselves. Other cancers may increase the risk of contracting the disease, but not as much.
Smoking may also increase mesothelioma risk, along with a host of other illnesses related to the lungs. Since mesothelioma is thought to be caused by prolonged lung irritation, smoke inhalation from cigarettes or cigars is thought to speed up this process and exacerbate symptoms. Although a direct link to mesothelioma is still being researched, smoking does increase the risk for other lung cancers and is a prime cause of lung irritation.
Simian virus 40 is a source of much debate in terms of its link to mesothelioma. Originally from monkeys, the virus infected humans through early polio vaccines that were manufactured using monkey cells. These vaccines are no longer being used and the link of simian virus 40 to mesothelioma is still being researched.
Aside from direct exposure to asbestos, one may also inhale asbestos particles by living with someone who works with asbestos. This, in combination with other risk factors, may cause someone who has not been directly exposed to asbestos to contract mesothelioma. The best forms of prevention are to keep homes well ventilated, not allowing persons who have recently been in contact with asbestos to sit on furniture or get near other family members until they are clean and dust free, and wearing protective masks while working with asbestos and other lung contaminants.