Short Answer: No. Mesothelioma, like other cancers, is caused by certain, adverse changes to genes, which can erode the body’s ability to repair and respond to genetic damage. Despite mesothelioma’s association with external risk factors, like asbestos exposure, it is not contagious and cannot be passed from one person to another.
Mesothelioma is not Contagious, But It Is a Severe and Painful Disease
There are Several Different Types of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer. It takes its name from the mesothelium, a thin layer of tissue that encases most of the human body’s internal organs. Since there are mesothelial layers throughout the body, this cancer can strike almost anywhere. However, mesothelioma usually affects the pleural tissue surrounding the lungs. In some rare cases, it can also start in or spread to the heart, abdomen, or testicles.
When doctors suspect that a patient could have mesothelioma, they diagnose it based on its location. For example:
- Pleural mesothelioma, or malignant pleural mesothelioma, affects the tissue surrounding the lungs, causing respiratory signs and symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and unexplained weight loss.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects abdominal tissue, can cause symptoms including abdominal pain, swelling, and nausea.
- Pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the heart, can complicate breathing and cause chest pain.
Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was long renowned for its strength, resiliency, and heat-resistant properties. For decades, asbestos was a mainstay of American industry. Manufacturers and construction companies used asbestos to create, fabricate, and reinforce a variety of products. While the federal Environmental Protection Agency banned the sale of most asbestos-based goods in the late 1980s, many consumer goods and residential structures remain contaminated.
We know today that asbestos is an incredibly dangerous substance, capable of causing illnesses up to and including mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a common type of cancer that affects the thin layer of tissue encasing most of the body’s major internal organs. This aggressive illness has one of the lowest survival rates of any cancer, with only 10% of patients to live five years beyond their initial diagnosis. While mesothelioma has several potential causes, it is most often diagnosed in people with a history of asbestos exposure. However, researchers believe this disease could have other risk factors, including rare genetic disorders.
The Causes of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a cancer.
Cancers are a category of genetic diseases, in the sense that cancer is caused by certain, adverse changes to a cell’s genetic structure, or DNA. These changes are called mutations. Sometimes, mutations will instruct a cell to begin multiplying. When the cells multiply out of control, they can accumulate and form a tumor.
Scientists are still trying to understand cancer. While the development of tumors is still being studied, cancers probably form through some combination of inherited physiological traits, environmental exposure, age, and lifestyle choices. A trait, experience, or condition that could contribute to the formation of a cancer tumor is called a “risk factor.”
Risk Factors for Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma has risk factors, too. They include:
- Asbestos Exposure. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Since asbestos is highly durable, inexpensive to produce, and heat resistant, it has been used in manufacturing and construction for centuries. However, asbestos products can release microscopic airborne fibers. If a person inhales these mineral fibers, they can get “trapped” inside the lungs, causing inflammation, respiratory problems, and different cancers, including mesothelioma. People who have a history of long-term exposure to asbestos, especially in the workplace, are at the highest risk of developing mesothelioma; they account for an estimated 70-80% of all diagnosed cases.
- Erionite Exposure. Erionite is another naturally occurring mineral. While erionite is no longer mined or used for commercial purposes, it can sometimes contaminate otherwise safe deposits of rock and gravel. When these erionite deposits are crushed, tilled, or otherwise dispersed, they can infiltrate the lungs and their mesothelia. The National Cancer Institute has found that road construction workers are at the highest risk for erionite exposure.
Mesothelioma can have other, less common causes, too:
- Genetics. Mesothelioma can sometimes “run in the family.” Scientists have found that so-called germline mutations in the gene encoding the BAP1 protein, passed from parents to their children, can increase an individual’s lifetime risk for mesothelioma. However, genetic mutations rarely cause mesothelioma without any external influence. People who may be genetically predisposed to the disease will still need to be exposed to asbestos, erionite, or other hazardous substances.
- Other factors. While mesothelioma is usually caused by asbestos or erionite exposure, scientists cannot always identify the source of mesothelioma. Links to other medical conditions, such as the simian virus, have been proposed but not verified.
Mesothelioma Continues to Kill, But It Isn’t Contagious
Mesothelioma is a dangerous disease with several potential causes, including asbestos exposure. However, mesothelioma is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from one person to another.
If you may have been exposed to asbestos, speak with your healthcare provider about tests and screening to help detect the presence of asbestos fibers and asbestos-related damage.
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