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What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the membrane that lines certain internal organs.  This membrane is called the mesothelium and is a thin layer of tissue that can be found in the lining of the lungs (the pleura), the lining around the abdominal cavity (the peritoneum) and the lining around the heart (the pericardium).

Exposure to asbestos is thought to be responsible for over 90% of mesothelioma cases.  It has been suggested that there may be other rare causes of mesothelioma but they are probably not fully understood at the moment.  It is well established that mesothelioma is not caused by smoking tobacco.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral.  When the tiny asbestos fibres become airborne then they can be inhaled and ingested.  The fibres may remain dormant in the body for many years.  It is thought that it usually takes between 30—40 years from when asbestos exposure took place for any symptoms to come to light although it can take more or less than 30-40 years in some cases.  Asbestos fibres can cause genetic mutations to cells in the body that leads to the growth of cancer.  

Mesothelioma is associated with occupational asbestos exposure and traditionally affects people who have worked in heavy industries such as shipbuilding, power stations and the construction industry.  These are examples of cases that we have dealt with over the years from people from a diverse range of occupations and backgrounds. 

However, mesothelioma can also be caused by very low levels of asbestos. 

There have been reported cases of people contracting mesothelioma from contact with family members who worked with asbestos, through washing clothes contaminated with asbestos and by children playing around asbestos factories and areas where asbestos waste was dumped.

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