Written By: Camryn Keeble

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Causes

The only cause of peritoneal mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a natural substance that was used across various industries and occupations during the 20th century. Asbestos is nearly impossible to identify by plain sight. This makes asbestos especially hazardous, as it can be hiding anywhere – in your home, office or any building, and you most likely wouldn’t know.

Karen Ritter, RN BSN

Medically Reviewed By

Karen Ritter, RN BSN

Registered Nurse

Karen Ritter, RN BSN

Medically Reviewed By

Karen Ritter, RN BSN

Registered Nurse


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Important Facts About Peritoneal Mesothelioma Causes

  • Asbestos fibers can be ingested (swallowed) and lodged in the lining of the abdomen. The toxic fibers can eventually damage cells, causing abnormal cell growth and tumors.
  • There are four methods of asbestos exposure: occupational, secondary, environmental and talc.
  • The average age for peritoneal mesothelioma patients is 57, and approximately 56% are male. Peritoneal mesothelioma affects females more than pleural mesothelioma.

What Causes Peritoneal Mesothelioma?

illustration of abdominal cavity with labels for each organ showcasing thickened peritoneum
illustration of abdominal cavity with labels for each organ showcasing thickened peritoneum

The only proven cause of peritoneal mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. When asbestos is disturbed, it can easily break apart and crumble. Broken asbestos particles result in a dust (usually white, blue or brown in color) that can easily contaminate the air. The tiny fibers are nearly invisible to the human eye yet are very sharp.

Asbestos fibers can be easily ingested (swallowed) or inhaled (breathed in). Once they enter the body, the microscopic asbestos particles can lodge into the peritoneum, which is the tissue lining the abdominal cavity. Once lodged in the tissue lining, it can cause the cells to change and mutate.

Dr. Shanel Bhagwandin, a peritoneal mesothelioma specialist at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida, said asbestos fibers often reach the abdomen due to swallowing the fibers, which then travel through the digestive tract.

What Causes Peritoneal Thickening?

Although asbestos exposure is the only cause of peritoneal mesothelioma, exposure to the mineral can also cause other conditions.

Asbestos exposure can lead to peritoneal thickening, an abnormal thickening of the peritoneum, which can derive from chronic inflammation, infection or trauma. Peritoneal thickening can be a symptom of peritoneal mesothelioma or a separate, standalone condition as a result of asbestos exposure.

How Does Asbestos Cause Peritoneal Mesothelioma? 

Asbestos causes peritoneal mesothelioma by entering the body and affecting tissue cells in the peritoneum, which is the lining of the abdominal cavity.

If the peritoneum tissue cells start mutating, peritoneal cancer can form. Ingesting or inhaling tiny, sharp asbestos fibers is the only cause of peritoneal mesothelioma.

Although there is only one cause of peritoneal mesothelioma, there are various methods of asbestos exposure. The four methods of asbestos exposure are:

  • Occupational asbestos exposure (most common)
  • Secondary asbestos exposure
  • Environmental asbestos exposure
  • Talc asbestos exposure

Every type of asbestos exposure is a peritoneal mesothelioma risk factor.

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Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Occupational asbestos exposure occurs when someone is exposed to asbestos while at work. This was the top method of exposure in the 20th century. People working in various industries were unknowingly exposed to the toxic substance daily because asbestos was relied on to create household products, construct buildings, and military vessels and equipment.

The most common jobs involving asbestos exposure were:

  • Construction workers
  • Automobile repair workers
  • Electricians
  • Boiler workers
  • Plant workers
  • Miners
  • Shipyard workers
  • Firefighters
  • Military service

These are the primary at-risk occupations for peritoneal mesothelioma. If you worked any of these jobs during the 20th century, this is a peritoneal mesothelioma risk factor.

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Secondary Asbestos Exposure

Secondary asbestos exposure occurs when someone is exposed to asbestos by another person. This most often happens with a friend or family member who worked one of the at-risk occupations.

Asbestos can attach to clothes, skin or hair. If a person working an at-risk occupation comes home and hugs their loved one or puts their clothes in the dirty laundry basket, this can lead to secondary exposure. If you are the spouse or child of someone who has worked in any of the at-risk occupations, this is another peritoneal mesothelioma risk factor.

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Environmental Asbestos Exposure

Because asbestos is a naturally forming mineral, it must be mined to be produced. When mining for asbestos, it can contaminate the environment. This usually occurs in unpopulated areas, but there have been instances of environmental asbestos exposure affecting entire towns. People who live near large asbestos deposits can be exposed through water run-off or mining projects, which is another risk factor for peritoneal mesothelioma.

The most known example of environmental asbestos exposure is Libby, Montana – a small mining town. The Libby vermiculite ore mine was active from 1924-1990. The mine contained asbestos, which led to air and water pollution. More than 2,500 Libby residents have died of asbestos-related diseases, such as peritoneal mesothelioma, due to environmental asbestos exposure.

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Talc Asbestos Exposure

Similar to asbestos, talc is a naturally forming mineral often found and mined in close proximity to asbestos. Unfortunately, the closeness of the two minerals has led to asbestos-contaminated talc.

Talc is a mineral frequently used in health and beauty products for its absorbent properties. To name a few, it can treat and prevent diaper rashes, eliminate bad odors, absorb sweat and oils. 

For decades, talc was the key ingredient in baby powders, countless makeup products and much more. Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder is the most famous example of a product using talc and causing peritoneal mesothelioma. Manufacturers mine for talc and grind the mineral down to a product called talcum powder. There have been many reported instances of certain talcum powder products, like Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, testing positive for traces of asbestos. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Peritoneal Mesothelioma Prognosis

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What Causes Peritoneal Mesothelioma?

Exposure to asbestos is the only cause of peritoneal mesothelioma. When asbestos breaks apart into loose fibers, it can be swallowed or inhaled. Once it enters your body, asbestos can get stuck in a thin tissue lining around the abdomen made up of mesothelial cells. This lining is called the peritoneum, and cancer that forms here is called peritoneal mesothelioma.

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What Are the Main Causes of Peritoneal Cancer from Asbestos?

The main cause of peritoneal cancer is occupational asbestos exposure. During the 20th century, there were many jobs that involved handling or working with asbestos. The top at-risk peritoneal mesothelioma occupations were shipbuilding, construction, insulation, electrical, plumbing and anything else involving building a home or office.

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Is Peritoneal Mesothelioma Always Fatal?

Peritoneal mesothelioma is not always fatal. The average life expectancy after a peritoneal mesothelioma diagnosis is 1-2 years. However, there are stories of people living for 5-10 years – or more – thanks to treatment, such as surgery.

Sources & Author

  1. Peritoneal thickening. Radiopaedia. Retrieved from: https://radiopaedia.org/articles/peritoneal-thickening?lang=us#:~:text=Peritoneal%20thickening%20is%20a%20descriptive,peritonitis. Accessed: 03/14/2023.
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About the Writer, Camryn Keeble

Camryn Keeble is a content writer and editor for Mesothelioma Guide. She creates informative content to educate mesothelioma patients and their loved ones on news, treatments and more. She also works diligently to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure and the effects of mesothelioma.