A common question among mesothelioma patients, or even people just interested in learning about the cancer, revolves around levels of asbestos exposure.
They ask, “How much asbestos must you be exposed to in order to develop mesothelioma?” or “How often must asbestos exposure occur for you to be in danger?”
The answer is simple: any amount or frequency greater than zero.
No matter if you were exposed to a low quantity or just one instance of exposure, you could be at risk. A BMJ Case Reports abstract published last week reasserts this fact. The study analyzed the case of a pleural mesothelioma patient who had “remote, short-term asbestos exposure.”
How Mesothelioma Develops in Your Body
Exposure to asbestos particles is the only cause of mesothelioma, a rare disease with around 3,300 new cases in the United States each year. Mesothelioma originates most often in the lining between the lung cavity and chest wall. This space is called the pleura, and the disease is known explicitly as pleural mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma can also form in the peritoneum, which is a thin membrane wrapping around the abdominal cavity. This form of the cancer is called peritoneal mesothelioma.
Asbestos can enter the body either through breathing in or swallowing loose fibers. These sharp pieces of dust can then penetrate the cells that comprise these small linings. If the fibers aren’t expelled from the body — and instead irritate the cells — then cellular mutation can occur.
The more often someone is exposed to asbestos — and the more of the mineral they interact with — the more likely these loose fibers enter their body and irritate cells. However, just one instance — or even one piece of fragmented asbestos dust — could turn healthy cells into diseased ones.
Where Asbestos Exposure Occurs
The report concludes with the same sentiment regarding mesothelioma and asbestos exposure levels. The study showed why “the degree of asbestos exposure to induce a malignant mesothelioma may be smaller than has been traditionally thought.”
The most common source of asbestos exposure is occupational. Construction, insulation, electrical and automobile mechanic work all involved asbestos parts for decades — up until the very end of the 20th century. Many other trades — such as baking, boiler work and plumbing — also likely involved regular exposure.
However, as the study shows, any instance of exposure could cause mesothelioma. Since asbestos was so widely used — in addition to mining and production facilities — throughout the 20th century, the mineral is just about everywhere. People can be exposed to loose asbestos particles without ever working in an at-risk occupation.
If you have mesothelioma and are unsure how you got the cancer, then we can help. Our patient advocate team includes a registered nurse who can answer any of your medical questions. Our experts also have a list of all locations where asbestos exposure would have occurred. With this information, you can trace back into your personal history and find answers to your diagnosis.
Email our nurse, Karen Ritter, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more help with answering your biggest questions about mesothelioma.
- Diffuse epithelioid malignant mesothelioma of the pleura presenting as a hydropneumothorax and vertebral body invasion. BMJ Journals. Retrieved from: https://casereports.bmj.com/content/13/1/e231987. Accessed: 01/06/20.
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