Latency Period for Mesothelioma

One of the major challenges in the early detection of mesothelioma is that the latency period can be anywhere from 15-50 years after exposure, depending on the exposure level. Sometimes diagnoses cannot be positively determined until after the primary tumor is large enough to detect and test, as often occurs in the later stages of the cancer.

Mesothelioma Latency

The average latency period for malignant mesothelioma is just less than 23 years, as reported by the National Institute of Health.

It has been seen as extremely rare to see a latency period of fewer than 15 years and some of the longest have been upwards of 60 years.

Large portions of people with a mesothelioma diagnosis, or other asbestos-related illness, are seniors in their 60s or even 70s. Often, they were exposed to asbestos in the workplace as young adults and it took between 15 and 60 years to develop into cancer. Frequently these diagnoses are found when common indicators, like persistent dry cough and breathing difficulties, simply cannot be ignored any longer.

Some studies show that lower exposure levels initially, combined with shorter exposure durations, can lead to longer latency periods. The inverse tends to be true as well, those with much higher exposure levels and longer exposure periods experience much shorter latency periods.

Factors That Can Affect Development

While there are likely a vast number of factors that can influence the latency period of mesothelioma, most research seems to arrive at the fact that the two most significant factors are the duration and the intensity of the initial asbestos exposure.

Duration and Intensity

Exposure to extremely high levels of asbestos often leads to a much more brief latency period, as short as one year.

This means first responders on the scene at disasters like the World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Katrina, among others, are some of those at the highest risk of short-term exposure that can lead to mesothelioma.

Other Factors

  • Fiber Type – The various types of asbestos have differing latency periods and associated cancers. Crocidolite asbestos, for example, has a very short latency period compared to other types.
  • Occupation – Since asbestos was so widely used for so long, many occupations are at risk of exposure. Some of the highest risk jobs include insulation installers, boiler technicians, shipyard workers, factory workers, power plant employees, and of course anyone formerly involved in asbestos mining, manufacture, import, export, or use.

Secondhand Exposure

Secondhand exposure is when a family member or loved one is exposed to asbestos fibers in some way, and brings those fibers home, accidentally exposing other members of the household. Common for those who work directly with asbestos, like miners.

The fibers are often carried home on the clothing, providing steady, low-level exposure for all those nearby.