Mesothelioma is widely viewed as a disease of the elderly. The average age of people diagnosed is in the 60s, and few of them are younger than 40.
That’s what makes a recent report — of a young man, in his 20s, with mesothelioma — so noteworthy.
Chest Journal, the official publication of the American College of Chest Physicians, reported a case involving a man diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. He exhibited persistent dry cough, night sweats, pleural effusions and pleural thickening, all of which are symptoms of this type of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, with approximately 3,000 new cases in the United States each year. Almost all of them involve people ages 50 and older. The average age of pleural mesothelioma, in particular, is 72.
However, this case reveals that anyone — truly anyone — can develop mesothelioma.
“It’s not just restricted to (the elderly),” said Dr. Raja Flores, the chief of thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “I’ve operated on a good number of people in their 20s. I’ve operated on two in their teens.”
Early Asbestos Exposure Leads to Young Diagnosis
In the Chest Journal case report, the patient in his 20s was “a thin, well-appearing young man” with no signs of any anxiety, distress or reason to be unhealthy.
The answer to his cancer is his 22 years of frequent asbestos exposure.
As the only proven cause of mesothelioma, asbestos is a durable mineral used for decades in construction, insulation, electrical work and other trades. However, asbestos also consists of many microscopic, flaky fibers that can easily separate from the primary source.
These fibers are sharp, able to pierce through cells and tissue within the body. When inhaled, the fibers can travel into the thorax and eventually the pleura, which is the narrow lining near the lung cavity and chest wall. Fibers irritate cells within the pleura, which leads to tumors and the origination of pleural mesothelioma.
“From ages 2 to 7 years, (the patient) frequently visited buildings at his parents’ workplace that were undergoing asbestos abatement,” the report states. “From ages 7 to 24 years, he frequently visited pottery studios where talc-containing products were used.”
How Talc Can Cause Young Mesothelioma Cases
Talc, like asbestos, is a naturally occurring mineral. The two easily mix, and talc-containing products can become polluted with asbestos fibers.
For decades, occupational asbestos exposure was the primary culprit behind mesothelioma. However, that method of exposure mostly applied to working adults.
Exposure at young ages might relate more to talc products. Many Americans use cosmetics and cleaning powders, many of which include talc in powder form, at an early age.
Dr. Flores said talc exposure is a likely cause of young mesothelioma diagnoses.
“It’s tough to prove that, but that’s where I would bet my money,” he said. “Or if it was in the attic in the house or in school. I’m convinced they were exposed to something.”
Variance in Mesothelioma Latency Period and Age of Diagnosis
The latency period for mesothelioma is longer than most cancers — between 20 and 50 years. The usual age of diagnosis is well above 50. However, there is no exact science to either statistic.
If asbestos exposure occurs at a young enough age, then mesothelioma can affect people in their 30s, 20s and even teenagers.
Recent studies show variances in both the mesothelioma latency period and the age of diagnosis.
The American Journal of Industrial Medicine published findings of 75 people who developed mesothelioma after repeated exposure to talc products. Of those 75 people:
- Ten were diagnosed before age 40
- Four were diagnosed before age 30
While the numbers are small, they’re proof young people can develop mesothelioma. Any asbestos exposure, at any point in life, can lead to this cancer.
If you were recently diagnosed with mesothelioma, regardless of your age, contact our team. Our patient advocate and registered nurse, Jenna Campagna, is available via email at email@example.com.
Show Sources & Author
- A Man in His 20s With Cough, Unilateral Pleural Effusion, and Nodular Pleural Thickening. Chest Journal. Retrieved from:
https://journal.chestnet.org/article/S0012-3692(19)31316-9/fulltext. Accessed: 06/15/2020.
- Malignant mesothelioma following repeated exposures to cosmetic talc: A case series of 75 patients. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Retrieved from:
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ajim.23106. Accessed: 03/18/2020.
- Mesothelioma: Statistics. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Retrieved from:
https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/mesothelioma/statistics. Accessed: 06/15/2020.