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The period between a patient’s first exposure to asbestos and their mesothelioma diagnosis is called the latency period. The latency period for mesothelioma can last between 20 to 60 years. In some cases, the latency can be even longer. Various factors can influence the latency period including age, health, and the amount of exposure to asbestos. 

How Long Does It Take For Mesothelioma To Develop?

While the median latency period for mesothelioma is around 40 years, some cases of mesothelioma have had latency periods as long as 60 to 70 years. Shorter latency periods of 15 years or less are rare in mesothelioma patients.

The different types of mesothelioma have different average latency periods. For peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the abdominal cavity, the period between first exposure and the onset of symptoms is often 20 to 40 years. Pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining of the lungs and is the most frequent type of mesothelioma, often has a longer latency period of 20 to 60 years or more.

The least common types of mesothelioma, pericardial (heart) and testicular, may have latency periods that are similar to peritoneal mesothelioma.  

Why Mesothelioma Often Has A Longer Latency Period Than Other Types of Cancer

The long latency period with mesothelioma results from the gradual harm that asbestos causes within the lining of certain organs. Materials containing asbestos pose a health risk when disturbed in a way that releases asbestos fibers into the air. Inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers can lead to disease.

Once asbestos fibers are inside the body, they can lodge in the mesothelial tissue. This is the layer of tissue that surrounds the organs of the chest, abdominal cavity, and pelvis. Over time, these fibers can cause inflammation and scarring and can lead to cancer development.

Factors That Impact the Mesothelioma Latency Period

The latency period of mesothelioma may be affected by the intensity of asbestos exposure itself. However, additional contributing factors can determine the rate at which a person experiences symptoms. These factors include the duration of exposure, the type of asbestos fiber that was inhaled or ingested, the individual’s age and health, and whether the exposure was direct or secondhand.  

Intensity and Duration of Asbestos Exposure

Oncology experts and researchers believe that there may be a connection between the duration and intensity of asbestos exposure and the latency periods of mesothelioma. Many mesothelioma patients had occupational asbestos exposure where they inhaled large quantities of hazardous fibers over an extended amount of time. This type of exposure further increases the risk of developing mesothelioma.

This increased risk is concerning for individuals working in industries where asbestos use is common. Home renovators, construction workers, insulation workers, shipyard laborers, mechanics, talc users, and other workers may have a higher exposure level than the general population and may experience shorter latent periods

Type of Asbestos Fiber

It’s essential to understand that exposure to any type of asbestos fiber can increase the risk of developing mesothelioma. However, the type of asbestos fiber in which a person is exposed can also affect the latency period of mesothelioma

There are six types of asbestos: chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. Chrysotile, amosite, and crocidolite are the most common types of asbestos fibers. They have a sharp, needle-like form that can pierce the mesothelial tissue more easily compared to curly chrysotile fibers. These three types of asbestos may be found in everyday products and living areas, especially in homes and buildings built before the 1980s. 

Amosite and crocidolite asbestos fibers are commonly found in cement, tiles, insulation and fire protection materials, gaskets, and roofing. Homeowners and building workers may unknowingly release these fibers into the air during construction and do-it-yourself renovations. Whether you’re a DIY-er or a professional who routinely came into contact with asbestos fibers, it’s important to understand the risk factors associated with asbestos exposure from common construction materials.

Direct Exposure vs. Secondhand Exposure

Asbestos exposure typically occurs through direct contact or secondhand exposure. The proximity of exposure can be a significant factor in the latency period of mesothelioma. Direct exposure significantly increases a person’s mesothelioma risk and may lead to shorter mesothelioma latency periods. Direct exposure occurs when handling and working around materials containing asbestos, such as in a work setting.

Secondhand exposure occurs when asbestos fibers stuck to hair and clothing are subsequently inhaled by others. This type of exposure typically affects family members of those who work with asbestos-containing products.

Like direct exposure, indirect asbestos exposure does not always lead to mesothelioma, but, when it does, it may be associated with longer latency periods

Type of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is classified into several different types based on its location in the body. Malignant pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma. It tends to have a longer latency period of 20 to 60 years or more. There are a variety of treatment options for pleural mesothelioma

Mesothelioma affects the lining of smaller organs, such as the heart, abdomen, and testes, and generally has a shorter latency period.  Peritoneal mesothelioma, the second most common type of mesothelioma, often results in a disease that occurs 20 to 40 years after asbestos exposure.

Early detection and diagnosis may increase the likelihood that the cancer can be treated before it spreads. At an early stage, symptoms may be more manageable and treatment options may be more effective. As a result, the survival rate if often higher when diagnosed at an early stage.

Mesothelioma Latency Period FAQs

How does the latency period impact a patient’s treatment options?

Stage 1 and stage 2 mesothelioma patients are likely eligible for more aggressive treatment options. Early detection and treatment can improve the survival rate. Late-stage patients may not have access to the same range of surgical and other treatment options. Their treatment may also be complicated by a weaker immune system and more widespread disease. 

It is always better to get checked early and regularly if you are experiencing any mesothelioma symptoms and have had exposure to asbestos.  

What is the latency period for other asbestos-related diseases?

Besides mesothelioma, there are several other asbestos-related diseases, each with its own distinct latency period. Asbestosis is among the most prevalent. Symptoms of this chronic condition usually present 15 years or more after exposure to asbestos fibers. Lung cancer tends to have a comparatively shorter latency period of 10 years or more after exposure. Pleural plaques may manifest 20 to 30 years after exposure. These areas of thickened tissue in the lining of the lungs may increase cancer risk. 

Discover How You Can Beat The Odds with Our Free Mesothelioma Guidebook

Gaining more knowledge about mesothelioma is a crucial part of understanding your risk. The extended latency periods associated with mesothelioma mean that people exposed to asbestos decades ago may only now be developing symptoms. You and your loved ones can find more information and answers to your most commonly asked questions about mesothelioma in our FREE Mesothelioma Guide.