Mesothelioma risk factors

Preventable cases

Mesothelioma cases are preventable, UK, 2015



Mesothelioma cases caused by workplace exposures, UK, 2015


94% of mesothelioma cases in the UK are preventable.[1]

Mesothelioma risk is associated with a number of risk factors.[2,3]

Mesothelioma Risk Factors

  Increases risk Decreases risk
'Sufficient' or 'convincing' evidence
  • Asbestos (all forms)
  • Erionite
  • Fluoro-edenite
  • Painting
'Limited' or 'Probable' evidence    

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) classification does not include mesothelioma because it is not generally recognised to have a relationship to food, nutrition, and physical activity.

Last reviewed:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies all six known types of asbestos Open a glossary item as causes of mesothelioma (though chyrsotile is less potent than the other asbestos types for inducing mesothelioma).[1] Asbestos exposure causes around 97% of mesothelioma cases in men, and around 83% in women in Great Britain, it is estimated.[2]

Asbestos exposure typically occurs in the workplace. Before the use and supply of asbestos was fully banned in the UK in the late 1990s, most exposures occurred in asbestos mining and manufacturing, and industries where asbestos was heavily used (for example shipbuilding and construction); today, most exposures are likely to occur when asbestos already in place is disturbed (for example during building maintenance).[2] Less common sources of exposure include paraoccupational/household (asbestos fibres brought into the home by exposed workers e.g. on work clothing), domestic/neighbourhood (living near an asbestos mine or production facility, or asbestos materials in the home releasing fibres due to everyday disturbance), and environmental (naturally-occurring asbestos in soil).[3] Mesothelioma incidence today reflects asbestos exposure many years ago, because there is a prolonged latency period.[4-6]

Last reviewed:

Occupational exposure is associated with a 14-fold increase in mesothelioma risk, a large British cohort study showed.[1] Age at first occupational asbestos exposure may modify the risk, however evidence on this remains unclear, a systematic review showed.[2]

Last reviewed:

Paraoccupational/household asbestos exposure is associated with an increase in mesothelioma risk of between five- and eight-fold, meta-analyses have shown.[1,2] However a British case-control study reported a lesser effect, with risk doubled in paraoccupationally exposed people.[3] Age at paraoccupational/household asbestos exposure may modify the risk but evidence is unclear, a systematic review showed.[4]


  1. Goswami E, Craven V, Dahlstrom DL, et al. Domestic asbestos exposure: a review of epidemiologic and exposure data. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2013;10(11):5629-70.
  2. Bourdes V, Boffetta P, Pisani P. Environmental exposure to asbestos and risk of pleural mesothelioma: review and meta-analysis. Eur J Epidemiol 2000;16(5):411-7.
  3. Rake C, Gilham C, Hatch J, et al. Occupational, domestic and environmental mesothelioma risks in the British population: a case-control study. BJC 2009;100(7):1175-83.
  4. Kang D, Myung MS, Kim YK, et al. Systematic Review of the Effects of Asbestos Exposure on the Risk of Cancer between Children and Adults. Ann Occup Environ Med. 2013 Jul 8;25(1):10.
Last reviewed:

Domestic/neighbourhood asbestos exposure is associated with a seven-fold increased mesothelioma risk, a meta-analysis showed.[1] However findings are heterogeneous between studies, and a British case-control study found no increased risk in people living within a mile of a potential source of environmental exposure, or in those living in buildings potentially containing asbestos.[2]


  1. Bourdes V, Boffetta P, Pisani P. Environmental exposure to asbestos and risk of pleural mesothelioma: review and meta-analysis. Eur J Epidemiol 2000;16(5):411-7.
  2. Rake C, Gilham C, Hatch J, et al. Occupational, domestic and environmental mesothelioma risks in the British population: a case-control study. BJC 2009;100(7):1175-83.
Last reviewed:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies occupation as a painter as a cause of mesothelioma.[1] While the IARC classification does not attribute this to a specific exposure, painters may have encountered asbestos in paints themselves (until the 1990s some paints contained asbestos as a filler), or in work sites (building maintenance may disturb asbestos already in place).[2]


  1. IARC. List of Classifications by cancer sites with sufficient or limited evidence in humans, Volumes 1 to 105*. Available from : Accessed December 2013.
  2. IARC. A Review of Human Carcinogens: Painting, firefighting and shiftwork (98). IARC: Lyon; 2010.
Last reviewed:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies erionite, a mineral similar to asbestos, as a cause of mesothelioma.[1] Evidence comes almost exclusively from one region in Turkey, where erionite is used as a building material, and mesothelioma rates are extremely high.[2] Because erionite occurs elsewhere in the world (notably parts of the US) without similarly high mesothelioma rates, it has been argued that the situation in Turkey indicates genetic susceptibility to erionite-associated mesothelioma in this population,[3] however evidence for this is weak.[1]

Last reviewed:

Ionising radiation may increase mesothelioma risk, although evidence is not consistent, perhaps due to changes in mesothelioma coding.[1] Mesothelioma risk is slightly increased following radiotherapy for some previous cancers including breast, prostate and Hodgkin lymphoma, cohort studies of survivors indicate.[2-5] Exposure to thorium dioxide (Thorotrast) is associated with increased risk though this chemical has not been commonly used since the 1950s.[1] Nuclear workers are not at increased mesothelioma risk, a meta-analysis showed.[6]


  1. Goodman JE, Nascarella MA, Valberg PA. Ionizing radiation: a risk factor for mesothelioma. Cancer Causes Control 2009;20(8):1237-54.
  2. Teta MJ, Lau E, Sceurman BK, et al. Therapeutic radiation for lymphoma: risk of malignant mesothelioma. Cancer 2007;109(7):1432-8.
  3. Deutsch M, Land SR, Begovic M, et al. An association between postoperative radiotherapy for primary breast cancer in 11 National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) studies and the subsequent appearance of pleural mesothelioma. Am J Clin Oncol 2007;30(3):294-6.
  4. De Bruin ML, Burgers JA, Baas P, et al. Malignant mesothelioma after radiation treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. Blood 2009;113(16):3679-81.
  5. Farioli A, Violante FS, Mattioli S, et al. Risk of mesothelioma following external beam radiotherapy for prostate cancer: a cohort analysis of SEER database. Cancer Causes Control 2013;24(8):1535-45.
  6. Metz-Flamant C, Guseva Canu I, Laurier D. Malignant pleural mesothelioma risk among nuclear workers: a review. J Radiol Prot 2011;31(1):9-23.
Last reviewed:

People who have been occupationally exposed to mineral (rock and glass) wools are not at increased mesothelioma risk, a meta-analysis showed.[1] Exposure to silica is also not associated with mesothelioma risk, according to a pooled case-control study in France.[2] However, exposure to mineral wool or silica in conjunction with asbestos exposure may increase mesothelioma risk more than exposure to asbestos alone.[2]

Last reviewed:

It has not been convincingly demonstrated that simian virus 40 (SV40) is associated with mesothelioma risk, an The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) review concluded.[1]

Last reviewed:

Cancer stats explained

See information and explanations on terminology used for statistics and reporting of cancer, and the methods used to calculate some of our statistics.


You are welcome to reuse this Cancer Research UK content for your own work.
Credit us as authors by referencing Cancer Research UK as the primary source. Suggested styles are:

Web content: Cancer Research UK, full URL of the page, Accessed [month] [year].
Publications: Cancer Research UK ([year of publication]), Name of publication, Cancer Research UK.
Graphics (when reused unaltered): Credit: Cancer Research UK.
Graphics (when recreated with differences): Based on a graphic created by Cancer Research UK.

When Cancer Research UK material is used for commercial reasons, we encourage a donation to our life-saving research.
Send a cheque payable to Cancer Research UK to: Cancer Research UK, Angel Building, 407 St John Street, London, EC1V 4AD or

Donate online


We are grateful to the many organisations across the UK which collect, analyse, and share the data which we use, and to the patients and public who consent for their data to be used. Find out more about the sources which are essential for our statistics.

Rate this page:

Currently rated: 1.4 out of 5 based on 8 votes
Thank you!
We've recently made some changes to the site, tell us what you think

Share this page