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What causes mesothelioma?

Exposure to asbestos fibres or asbestos dust is the main cause of mesothelioma, but in some cases there is no clear link to asbestos.

Asbestos is the name of a group of naturally occurring minerals that are resistant to high temperatures and humidity. It was used in many building products in Australia from the 1940s until 1987. Since 2004, Australia has banned asbestos being sold, reused and/or imported. Despite the ban, asbestos has been found in some products recently imported from overseas. It is still found in many older buildings, so special care needs to be taken when renovating.

People who may have been exposed to asbestos at work include: builders, plumbers and electricians; boilermakers and welders; asbestos miners; asbestos  cement manufacturing workers; insulators; automotive industry workers; mechanics; transport workers (especially waterside workers); and textile workers.

People who haven’t worked directly with asbestos but have been exposed to it can also develop mesothelioma. These can include people cleaning work clothes with asbestos fibres on them, or people disturbing asbestos during home renovations or maintenance.

It can take many years for mesothelioma to develop after a person is exposed to asbestos. This is called the latency period or interval – it is usually between 20 and 60 years (most commonly around 40 years) after exposure.

Can I seek compensation?

People who develop mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure may be able to claim compensation. Start making notes and talking to family and friends about when you may have been exposed to asbestos. It is important to get advice from an experienced lawyer as soon as possible after diagnosis because a case for compensation must be started within your lifetime. Mesothelioma or asbestos support groups may be able to help you.

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed August 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Brian McCaughan, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Theodora Ahilas, Principal Lawyer, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, NSW; Prof David Ball, Director, Lung Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Shirley Bare, Consumer; Cassandra Dickens, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Care Coordinator – Thoracic Malignancies, Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Penny Jacomos, Social Worker, Asbestos Diseases Society of South Australia, SA; A/Prof Thomas John, Medical Oncologist, Senior Clinical Research Fellow, Austin Health, and Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, VIC; Victoria Keena, Executive Officer, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, NSW; Penny Lefeuvre, Consumer; Jocelyn McLean, Mesothelioma Support Coordinator, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, NSW; Prof David Morris, Peritonectomy Surgeon, St George Hospital and University of New South Wales, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Western Australia; Prof Anna Nowak, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine and Pharmacology, The University of Western Australia, WA; Prof Jennifer Philip, Palliative Care Specialist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC; Nicole Taylor, Acting Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma Cancer Specialist Nurse, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.