How Did I Get Mesothelioma?

man with a white cap on

The news hits you like a punch in the stomach, knocking the wind out of you. Your physician confirms that you have mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer that likely gives you less than two years to live.

Although for weeks, you had been aware of the symptoms that included coughing, chest pains, difficulty breathing, night sweats and loss of weight, you had no idea that your mortality was in the balance. Now that you know that you have mesothelioma, something else bothers you. You wonder how you obtained this nearly always fatal disease. Was prevention possible?

Through work and secondary exposure

Mesothelioma is caused by the inhalation and/or ingestion of asbestos fibers. Although we understand that asbestos causes the disease, we wonder how do people become exposed to asbestos? This usually happens through work or at home.

Certain workers consistently exposed to asbestos have higher chances of a mesothelioma diagnosis. This group often works in the construction and industrial areas and includes construction workers, firefighters machine operators, shipbuilders and agricultural workers.

In addition, unsuspecting home dwellers may come down with mesothelioma. Asbestos often is an element in construction materials. For example, U.S. homes built from the 1940s through the 1970s often relied on asbestos to fireproof the structures. Asbestos was used for insulating pipes and found in drywall, siding, ceilings and floor tiles.

Family members and others who share dwellings with workers that regularly deal with asbestos also potentially can get mesothelioma. How? Through secondary exposure. Construction and industrial workers who return home may have asbestos fibers on their clothing, shoes or tools. Those fibers can become airborne and spread to clothing, furniture and curtains, sometimes by something as simple as a welcome home hug.