Asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor for mesothelioma. Asbestos is useful in a wide variety of applications, such as in insulation, cement, brakes, shingles, flooring and many other products. People who work around asbestos fibers are thought to have the greatest risk of mesothelioma. The occupations most widely affected are miners, factory workers, railroad workers, ship builders and construction workers – especially those who install asbestos containing insulation. Mesothelioma risk is believed to be increased in people who are exposed to high levels of asbestos, in people who are exposed to asbestos over a long period of time and in people exposed to asbestos at a young age. It can take 30 to 40 years or more for mesothelioma to develop as a result of asbestos exposure.
It is interesting to note that some people with years of asbestos exposure never develop mesothelioma. And yet, others with very brief exposure develop the disease. This indicates that there may be other factors involved in determining the risk for mesothelioma. For example, inherited predisposition to cancer and impaired immune status can increases the risk.