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FAQs About Mesothelioma

Some of the most frequently asked questions about mesothelioma include:

What is mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops in a thin layer of tissue called the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a membrane lining that covers and protects many of your internal organs. Mesothelioma most commonly affects the lining of the lungs and chest wall.

How is mesothelioma caused?

In most cases, malignant mesothelioma is caused because of exposure to asbestos. Around 80 percent of all mesothelioma cases have been traced back to asbestos exposure.

Exposure typically occurs when asbestos fibers in the air are inhaled. When this happens, fibers can get into your lungs and travel through small airways allowing the asbestos to enter the lining of your lungs and chest wall.

Malignant mesothelioma typically develops later in life, years after being exposed to asbestos. However, there have been cases in young adults and children.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos refers to a group of minerals made up of durable fibers that are resistant to heat, electricity and chemicals. Due to their flexible and impervious nature, asbestos fibers were frequently used to manufacture construction materials, textiles and automotive parts.

A rise in health concerns in the United States led to a ban on certain asbestos use and eventual phase outs. Since the 1970s the use of asbestos fibers has dramatically declined. In 2002, the U.S. stopped mining for asbestos.

While the general use of asbestos fibers has significantly decreased, it is still used in certain commercial materials. Any asbestos used today in the U.S. is imported.

Is mesothelioma common?

On average, 2,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. This rare form of cancer is also more common among men than women. During the years when asbestos fibers were widely used, men were much more likely to have jobs with heavy exposure.

Can secondhand exposure to asbestos cause mesothelioma?

The most common way for women and children to come into contact with asbestos is by secondhand exposure. This type of exposure occurs when a loved one inadvertently brings asbestos fibers in the home (usually on clothing).

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