Mesothelioma is an incurable and aggressive cancer that is only caused by asbestos exposure. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, and exposure that took place years ago may still result in a mesothelioma diagnosis. The long latency period of asbestos means that a mesothelioma diagnosis can come as a surprise to patients. Knowing your asbestos exposure history and sharing it with your doctor can help you stay alert for warning signs.
When asbestos dust becomes airborne, the tiny spiky particles can be inhaled or ingested and become lodged in the chest. Once they get stuck in the body, they cannot be expelled, and the particles remain there, causing inflammation and damaging the surrounding tissue. After years of this damage, tumors can begin to develop in the mesothelium, or the lining of the internal organs.
This process of tumor development takes decades. Patients may not see tumors begin to form until 20 to 60 years or longer after their initial asbestos exposure. Some patients have received a diagnosis after a 70-year latency period, and it is unusual for latency to be less than 15 years.
Factors Affecting Latency
There are several factors that can impact the length of the latency period. There are multiple types of mesothelioma, depending on where tumors develop. The most common is pleural mesothelioma, which infects the lining of the lungs and chest cavity and typically has a latency period of 30 to 60 years. Peritoneal mesothelioma, which infects the lining of the stomach and abdomen, has a shorter period, usually 20 to 40 years. Gender also seems to be a factor, with women seeing longer latency periods than men.
Patients exposed to higher levels of asbestos over longer periods of time tend to develop tumors sooner. One common source of exposure is in the workplace, and there are some industries that have a higher risk than others.
The long latency period of asbestos-related disease means that patients who were exposed decades ago may still receive a diagnosis. Asbestos has been regulated since the 1980s, but prior to that, there were few safety measures in place for the use and handling of the substance. People who were exposed 40 or more years ago when asbestos was more prevalent may still develop mesothelioma. Despite the regulations, there are still asbestos exposure risks today.
After decades of tissue damage, the onset of tumor development can go unnoticed. Patients in the early stages of mesothelioma may experience no symptoms at all or mild symptoms. As tumors grow, they can cause pressure in the chest resulting in chest pain or discomfort, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, persistent cough, or fatigue. Symptoms may not start until stage 3 and are easily mistaken for other conditions, which can delay diagnosis.
Early diagnosis is key to increasing life expectancy, but with delayed symptoms and decades since the exposure, it may not occur to physicians to check for mesothelioma. If you know you have a history of asbestos exposure, telling your physician can help them reach a diagnosis sooner.
Philadelphia Mesothelioma Attorneys at Shein Law Advocate for Those Who Have Asbestos Diseases
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer, or another asbestos-related disease, one of our Philadelphia mesothelioma attorneys at Shein Law can provide legal help. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call 877-743-4652 or complete our online form to schedule an appointment today.