Written By: Devin Golden

Pleural Mesothelioma Causes

The only cause of pleural mesothelioma is asbestos, a naturally forming mineral that was used in several occupations for most of the 20th century. Asbestos is difficult to identify, and loose asbestos fibers are nearly undetectable to the human eye. This is what makes asbestos particularly dangerous, as it can be in your home, office or any building, and you likely won’t notice.

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 Pleural Mesothelioma Causes

  • The only cause of pleural mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos.
  • Asbestos fibers can be inhaled and lodge in the lining of the lungs and chest cavity. The fibers can eventually damage cells causing abnormal cell growth and tumors.
  • There are four methods of asbestos exposure: occupational, secondary exposure, environmental and the use of asbestos-contaminated talc.

What Causes Pleural Mesothelioma?

There’s only one pleural mesothelioma cause: exposure to asbestos. When this naturally forming mineral is disturbed, it can break apart. The result is loose asbestos fibers being released into the air like pollen. The fibers are weightless and nearly invisible, but they’re also sharp.

Asbestos fibers can be inhaled (breathed in) or ingested (swallowed) easily. Once they’re inside your body, the sharp fibers can lodge into the mesothelial cell and tissue lining that separates your lung cavity and chest. This lining is called the pleura. If the fibers remain lodged in the tissue lining, then it can cause the tissue cells to change genetically and mutate.

The mutation of tissue cells in the pleura is what causes pleural cancer. Sharp asbestos fibers entering the body is, in fact, the only mesothelioma cause, regardless of the type.

What Causes Pleural Thickening?

Asbestos also causes pleural thickening, which can be the result of chronic inflammation and irritation of pleural tissues. Pleural thickening can be a symptom of malignant pleural mesothelioma, or it can be a standalone condition caused by asbestos exposure.

Pleural Thickening Image
Pleural Thickening Image

How Does Asbestos Cause Pleural Mesothelioma?

Exposure to asbestos is the main risk factor for pleural mesothelioma. Asbestos causes pleural mesothelioma by entering the body and affecting tissue cells in the pleura, which is a thin tissue lining near the lungs.

People are exposed to asbestos in several ways, with the most common method being occupational asbestos exposure. The four methods of exposure are:

  • Occupational asbestos exposure
  • Secondary asbestos exposure
  • Environmental asbestos exposure
  • Talc asbestos exposure
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Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Occupational asbestos exposure was the primary type of exposure in the 20th century. People working in several industries – mostly blue-collar jobs – were exposed on almost a daily basis.

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 main pleural mesothelioma risk occupations. Working one of these jobs during the 20th century is one of the biggest pleural mesothelioma risk factors.

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Secondary Asbestos Exposure

Secondary asbestos exposure occurs when people are exposed to asbestos by another person. This most often happens with a friend or family member who worked one of the above occupations.

Asbestos can attach to a worker’s clothes, skin or hair. If they hug their loved one or even take their clothes off to be washed, 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 can be another pleural mesothelioma risk factor.

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Environmental Asbestos Exposure

Since asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral and must be mined to be produced, it can contaminate the environment. Usually, this happens in unpopulated areas, but there are instances of environmental exposure affecting entire towns. People living near large deposits of asbestos can be exposed through water run-off or mining projects.

The most famous example of environmental asbestos exposure is Libby, Montana. The Libby vermiculite ore mine was active from 1924-1990. The mine included asbestos, which polluted air and water quality. More than 2,500 Libby residents have died of asbestos-related diseases due to environmental exposure.

Talc Asbestos Exposure Icon

Talc Asbestos Exposure

Similar to asbestos, talc is a naturally forming mineral. In fact, it’s often found in the same geographical areas as asbestos. Unfortunately, this can lead to talc and asbestos mixtures.

Talc is a valuable mineral in health and beauty products due to its moisture-absorbing properties. This can promote skin health.

For decades, talc was a main ingredient in baby powders, mascara, blush and more. Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder is the most famous example of a product using talc and causing pleural mesothelioma. Manufacturers mine for talc and grind the mineral into a powder, which is called talcum powder. There have been many reported instances of asbestos detected in talcum powder products, like Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pleural Mesothelioma Causes

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What Causes Pleural Mesothelioma?

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

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What Are the Main Causes of Pleural Cancer from Asbestos?

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

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Is Pleural Mesothelioma Always Fatal?

Pleural mesothelioma is not always fatal. The average life expectancy after diagnosis of this cancer is 1-2 years. There are stories of people living for 5-10 years – or more – thanks to treatment.

Sources & Author

  1. Diffuse pleural thickening. Asthma+Lung UK. Retrieved from: https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/asbestos-related-conditions/diffuse-pleural-thickening. Accessed: 02/02/2023.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.