Exposure to asbestos is considered to be the primary cause of mesothelioma, but the how and why can be baffling. Asbestos is a natural mineral. It is in the air we breathe and the water some of us drink. In 100 Questions and Answers About Mesothelioma we learn that asbestos fibers can be inhaled and ingested.

Even though I have been working with people affected by mesothelioma for over a decade, there are still questions I ask and strive to find the answers to when trying to understand how an individual can end up with a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Can living near a natural deposit of asbestos increase your risk of Mesothelioma?

Perhaps the best example of this can be found in Janet Raloff’s article, “Dirty Little Secret,” Science News, Vol. 170, #2, July 8, 2006, which discusses one study in which data collected from 3,000 mesothelioma patients found that there was an association between the number of mesothelioma cases and the distance one lived from a natural deposit of asbestos. In this particular study, the risk of mesothelioma declined by 6% for every 10 kilometers one lived from the source of asbestos.

And then, of course, there is the Libby, Montana fiasco. The 2004 Libby, Montana documentary depicts the lives of hard-working Americans who fell victim to asbestos exposure. The honest agony of these victims of asbestos poisoning is wrenching.

How is it that when one breathes in these minuscule particles one’s body cannot rid itself of them?

According to Dr. Pass, the majority of asbestos fibers that are inhaled may be trapped in the mucous linings of one’s upper air passages and are coughed up. When the longer, larger fibers are swallowed or not eliminated they can travel through the body, lodging in the pleural lining, creating pleural plaques or lung plaques until in time scar tissue, known as asbestosis, can develop. Those with pleural plaques are at a greater risk of developing mesothelioma.

Dr. Pass, along with other distinguished researchers, is working to find and develop new methods for early detection for individuals with high levels of asbestos exposure.

We must help Dr. Pass and other dedicated organizations such as the Meso Foundation (Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation), IMP (International Mesothelioma Program), and the University of Chicago Cancer Research Center find the answers and the cure. If not a cure, then the resources necessary to discover more treatment options and alternatives to helping those afflicted with mesothelioma to have a greater quality of life and a lot more time with us.

Mesothelioma research is critical. We should all push our legislators to do more.