Mesothelioma and Secondhand Asbestos Exposure: A Real Risk

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart. It is caused by exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that was widely used in construction and manufacturing for its heat-resistant properties. While the use of asbestos has been banned in many countries, it is still present in older buildings and products, putting workers and their families at risk of exposure.

What is Secondhand Asbestos Exposure?

Secondhand asbestos exposure occurs when someone comes into contact with asbestos fibers that have been released into the air by someone else. This can happen in a variety of ways, including:

  • Living with someone who works with asbestos
  • Cleaning the clothes of someone who works with asbestos
  • Living or working in a building that contains asbestos
  • Using asbestos-containing products or materials

Even brief exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

The Risks of Secondhand Asbestos Exposure

Secondhand asbestos exposure can be just as dangerous as direct exposure to asbestos. In fact, many people who develop mesothelioma have never worked with asbestos themselves, but instead were exposed to it through a family member who worked in a high-risk occupation.

Children and spouses of workers who were exposed to asbestos on the job are particularly vulnerable to secondhand exposure. Studies have shown that women who launder the clothes of asbestos workers are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma than the workers themselves.

Other groups at risk of secondhand exposure include:

  • Students and teachers in older school buildings
  • Tenants in buildings with asbestos-containing materials
  • Construction workers who work on older buildings
  • Demolition workers who remove asbestos-containing materials

It is important for these groups to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure, such as wearing protective clothing and gear, following safety protocols, and avoiding contact with asbestos-containing materials.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma symptoms can take decades to appear after exposure to asbestos, making early detection difficult. Common symptoms of mesothelioma include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

If you have been exposed to asbestos and are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment can improve your chances of survival.

Treatment Options for Mesothelioma

Treatment options for mesothelioma depend on the stage and location of the cancer, as well as the patient's overall health. Common treatment options include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy

It is important to work with a team of doctors and specialists who have experience treating mesothelioma, as this is a complex disease that requires specialized care.

Preventing Secondhand Asbestos Exposure

The best way to prevent secondhand asbestos exposure is to avoid contact with asbestos-containing materials. If you live or work in an older building, it is important to have it inspected for asbestos and to take steps to safely remove or encapsulate any asbestos-containing materials that are found.

If you or a family member works with asbestos, take precautions to avoid bringing asbestos fibers home. This can include changing clothes and showering before leaving work, storing work clothes separately from other clothing, and using a HEPA vacuum to clean up any asbestos dust or debris.


Mesothelioma is a serious and often deadly disease that is caused by exposure to asbestos. Secondhand asbestos exposure is a real risk for many people, including family members of workers who have been exposed to asbestos on the job. It is important to take precautions to reduce your risk of exposure and to seek medical attention if you are experiencing any mesothelioma symptoms.