The latency period for mesothelioma is the length of time that passes from when the patient was first exposed to asbestos up until the diagnosis of mesothelioma. In comparison to other diseases that develop from asbestos exposure, the latency period for mesothelioma is the longest. The latency period for mesothelioma is usually anywhere between 20 to 50 years.
In most cases, the latency period will be shorter amongst people who have been exposed to asbestos for longer periods of time. Most people are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma when they are between the ages of 40 to 69. If a person receives a diagnosis before the age of 40, they have most likely been exposed to asbestos as a child. A child receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma is extremely rare; however, when it does occur the cause has been attributed to asbestos being present in the child's living environment.
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Importance of Early Diagnosis
Because of the long latency periods associated with mesothelioma the disease's prognosis generally poor. Much like any other disease, treatment for mesothelioma is the most effective when a diagnosis is made in the early stages of cancer. The symptoms of mesothelioma are difficult to detect as they do not present until well after the disease has manifested itself, and even then can mimic the symptoms of other diseases. Although somewhat difficult, an early diagnosis of mesothelioma is paramount to a good prognosis.
Mesothelioma can develop in bodily tissue other than that lining the lungs. In a study conducted on 69 people with mesothelioma, there was a 35-year latency period for pleural mesothelioma, or mesothelioma within the lungs, and a 28-year latency period for peritoneal mesothelioma, or mesothelioma of the abdomen.
In most people who have received a diagnosis of mesothelioma, their exposure to asbestos was occupational. It is expected that people will continue to be diagnosed with the disease at least through the year 2020, despite the continued regulation of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials. The reasoning behind this is due to the latency period of mesothelioma and the fact that many people have the disease for years prior to seeking treatment. Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States alone each year.
Since people are living longer lives in comparison to many decades ago, it is expected that the statistics regarding how many people will be diagnosed with mesothelioma will undergo a significant change.
Secondary exposure occurs when family members come into contact with asbestos fibers that were brought home on the clothing or hair of those who were working in conditions where asbestos was present. The latency period makes it difficult to determine when such people were initially exposed to asbestos. Since a person's initial exposure to asbestos will vary depending on how long they were working in conditions where asbestos was present, it is complicated to determine concrete statistics regarding latency period.