Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that begins to grow in the pleural membrane. Your chest contains two thin layers of cells – an outer layer that lines the inside of your rib cage and an inner layer that covers your lungs. These layers are called the pleura or pleural membrane. Each layer is about as thin as the skin of a balloon.

The space between the two layers is called the pleural space and it normally contains a small amount of fluid. This fluid lubricates the two surfaces and lets your lungs and chest wall move and expand as you breathe in and out.

Asbestos exposure is the main cause of pleural mesothelioma. When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they travel to the ends of small air passages and reach the pleura, where they can cause inflammation and scarring.

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What Causes Mesothelioma in Children and Young Adults?

Doctors often consider mesothelioma in young people to be spontaneous, with no clear cause.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer most often diagnosed in people over 65. Worldwide, doctors have reported only a few hundred cases in young adults and children.

The primary cause of this cancer in adults is occupational asbestos exposure. But asbestos-related illnesses typically take several decades to develop after exposure, and most young people diagnosed with mesothelioma have no history of asbestos exposure.

This has led researchers to look for other potential causes of mesothelioma specific to children and young adults. Mesothelioma in youth is so rare, though, that it is difficulty to study.

A study published in Oncotarget in June 2015 reviewed 12,345 mesothelioma patients, and only 2% of the patients were under the age of 40 when they were first diagnosed.

Possible Causes of Mesothelioma in Young Adults and Children

  • Exposure to asbestos in products, the environment or through a family member
  • Radiation exposure, including radiation therapy for other cancers
  • In utero exposure to the antibiotic isoniazid
  • Genetic predisposition to mesothelioma