Medically Reviewed By
Karen Ritter, RN BSN
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What Is Mesothelioma Latency Period?
There is no safe asbestos exposure level. Any amount of inhaled or ingested fibers can cause mesothelioma. Latency period begins when fibers first reach the mesothelial linings.
Why Does Mesothelioma Take So Long to Develop?
Mesothelioma does not develop immediately. Each patient’s latency period is different, but the disease forms in the same biological way: asbestos exposure.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they become lodged in the protective coating of the lung cavity or abdominal cavity. The cellular linings in these membranes are collectively known as the mesothelium.
These sharp asbestos fibers cause scarring and inflammation in the mesothelium, ultimately leading to the formation of tumors. This scarring and inflammation occurs very slowly, though.
Most estimates find the average latency period for mesothelioma patients is approximately 40 years. One study of 1,690 mesothelioma patients found that only 4% were diagnosed within 20 years of their exposure.
Factors Affecting Mesothelioma Latency Period
There are several factors contributing to how long mesothelioma takes to develop. These factors coincide with the general mesothelioma risk factors.
A few occupations at risk of a high amount of asbestos exposure
Effects of Mesothelioma Latency Period
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Improving Diagnosis and Prognosis
Understanding the latency period of mesothelioma is important to diagnosing mesothelioma earlier. Scientists and mesothelioma specialists are hoping to increase survival times by catching the disease before it metastasizes.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma is typically only diagnosed after symptoms begin. In early stages, symptoms are minor and difficult to recognize as signs of a deadly cancer.
As a patient, you should understand that while the latency period is beyond your control, your mesothelioma prognosis is not.
Getting a second opinion can reveal a better prognosis. If you were diagnosed with mesothelioma, then you should see a specialist. They may diagnose you at an earlier stage or recommend live-saving surgery. We can help you find a specialist for a second opinion through our free Doctor Match program.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mesothelioma Latency Period
What does the “latency period” mean for mesothelioma?
Latency period is how long a disease takes to develop. Mesothelioma has a lengthy latency period, of at least 20 years and sometimes as much as 50 years. The long amount of time between exposure and development is why mesothelioma is hard to detect. Patients also struggle to piece together what caused their cancer.
What can affect the latency period for mesothelioma?
There are multiple factors that can dictate an individual’s mesothelioma latency period. The most important detail is asbestos exposure, explicitly how much enters a person’s body. People who worked jobs that involved regular exposure to asbestos are more likely to have a shorter latency period.
How does latency period affect treatment?
A long latency period means patients are often elderly, which can limit treatment. If a latency period is just 20-30 years, then the patient may be young and strong enough to withstand surgery and other treatment options.
Sources & Author
- Risk Factors for Malignant Mesothelioma. American Cancer Society. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html. Accessed: 04/06/2020.
- Latent period for malignant mesothelioma of occupational origin. Journal of Occupational Medicine. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1494965. Accessed: 10/10/18.
- O’Bryne, Kenneth and Rusch, Valerie. (2006). Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. New York. Oxford University Press.