Is Mesothelioma Caused by Radiation Therapy?

3 Min Read

A person receives radiation therapy

Leading cancer organizations have found that radiation may possibly cause mesothelioma, but only in extremely rare cases. The most common cause of mesothelioma remains asbestos exposure. If you were ever exposed to asbestos, keep a close watch for possible symptoms of mesothelioma later in life.

Radiation Rarely Causes Mesothelioma

Top cancer research groups are continuing to study possible cases of mesothelioma caused by radiation. There has not been a conclusive link for the vast majority of people affected by this cancer.

Exposure to asbestos remains the most common cause of mesothelioma — not radiation. Today, radiation therapy is even used as a mesothelioma treatment in certain cases.

Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma can speak with their doctors, as well as legal investigative personnel, to determine the cause of their cancer. Doctors have a variety of diagnostic tools at their disposal to determine the origin of the cancer.

Studies on Mesothelioma and Radiation

Remember, in almost all cases, mesothelioma develops after someone inhales or swallows microscopic asbestos fibers. However, researchers continue to study other possible causes like radiation. As of 2021, there are two possible ways that radiation therapy may cause mesothelioma.

1. Thorium Dioxide

Some scientists believe that being exposed to thorium dioxide, a chemical used in X-rays up until the 1950s, may make patients more likely to develop mesothelioma.

“Radiation exposure, particularly to the radioactive substance thorium dioxide, which was used with X-rays to diagnose health conditions between the 1920s and 1950s, may increase the risk of developing mesothelioma.”

— Penn Abramson Cancer Center

2. Radiation Treatment For Other Cancers

Scientists also believe that patients who receive radiation therapy for other cancers may have an increased risk of mesothelioma. This is because radiation typically harms both cancerous and non-cancerous cells.

“Radiation exposure may cause mesothelioma, such as when a patient has previously received radiation therapy for lymphoma.”

— American Society of Clinical Oncology

Scientists are still studying how radiation therapy may lead to mesothelioma. There is a possibility that radiation therapy may not actually lead to mesothelioma at all. Researchers at Cancer Research UK determined that radiation therapy is highly unlikely to increase the risk of mesothelioma, and if it did, it would only affect a small number of individuals.

Asbestos: the Most Common Cause of Mesothelioma

There is much more concrete data linking asbestos exposure to mesothelioma. The overwhelming majority of people diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos at some point in their lives.

Did you know

The American Cancer Society (ACS) found that around 80% of people diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos can cause mesothelioma by continually irritating the lining of the lungs or other major organs. Asbestos cannot be removed once inhaled, and so the fibers can cause Decades of damage. Eventually, the microscopic asbestos fibers cause healthy cells to mutate into cancerous ones.

Sadly, manufacturers of asbestos-based products knew this mineral was dangerous back in the 1930s but, to keep profits high, they hid the facts for decades from the U.S. military and the general public. By the time the health risks of asbestos became widely known, millions had already been exposed.

The military was one of the largest consumers of asbestos before the dangers were realized, which is why 33% of all mesothelioma cases occur in veterans today.

Options for Veterans With Mesothelioma

Veterans with mesothelioma can work with lawyers to determine when, where, and how their asbestos exposure occurred. It is much more likely that asbestos exposure, not radiation, caused a veteran to develop mesothelioma.

From there, lawyers can file legal claims on a veteran's behalf against the manufacturers of asbestos-based products. These claims are not filed against the U.S. military or government.

Veterans that were exposed to asbestos during their military service — and developed mesothelioma as a result — may also qualify for medical and financial benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Learn More About Mesothelioma and Veterans Benefits

Veterans can contact the Mesothelioma Veterans Center to learn more about accessing VA benefits and legal compensation. We have a VA-accredited attorney and patient advocate standing by to help veterans access the help they deserve.

Contact us today, and we’ll get started helping you get the benefits and compensation that you deserve. Our team can help you determine exactly how you developed mesothelioma.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

  1. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). What Causes Malignant Mesothelioma? Retrieved January 25, 2021, from
  2. Penn Abramson Cancer Center. (n.d.). Causes of Mesothelioma. Retrieved January 25, 2021, from
  3. Cancer Research UK. (2018, November 01). Risks and causes. Retrieved January 25, 2021, from
  4. American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2019, June 26). Mesothelioma - Risk Factors. Retrieved January 25, 2021, from