In general, a risk factor is something that impacts an individual's chance of developing a disease. Some risk factors and environmental but others can be hereditary or genetic. Exposure to asbestos is the main risk factor for developing cancer called mesothelioma. Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals that develop into bundles of fibers. When these fibers are inhaled, there is a potential that they will become stuck in an individual's airway and when the fibers remain in the lungs, they can damage the lungs and cause mesothelioma.
In addition to causing mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can also damage cells in the lungs and cause asbestosis which is a build-up of scar tissue in the lungs. Asbestos exposure can also cause lung cancer. Mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis are the most frequently occurring causes of disease and death in people who have had significant asbestos exposure. Rates of mesothelioma in men seem to be falling which is likely because of the awareness of exposure risks today.
Historically, asbestos was used in products because it is heat and fire-resistant. The use has gone down significantly in the United States in approximately the past 25 years, however, it is still used in some products today. There are also, of course, products still around from 25 years ago, or further back in time, that may still contain asbestos. In addition, asbestos was used as a building material to insulate homes, commercial buildings, public buildings, and schools. When asbestos fibers escape into the air from these materials following the decomposition of the materials over time or remodel or removal there is some risk of exposure.
Those at risk for asbestos exposure through a work environment include construction workers; insulation manufacturers and installers; automotive and railroad workers; shipbuilders; factors workers; miners; and gas mask manufacturers. In addition, family members of those in these occupations may also be at an increased risk because asbestos fibers may be transported home on the worker's clothing. Mesothelioma resulting from asbestos exposure can take a long period of time to develop and risk does not go down after the exposure ends. In the U.S., 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year.
In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can also lead to other serious health concerns, diseases, and even death. Because of this, it is important that victims and their families adequately understand the risks and remedies available if harmed.