What You Should Know About Mesothelioma Latency

Updated on February 20, 2024

Today, most of us are acutely aware that asbestos is a hazardous material, even if we’re not familiar with the specific mechanics and biological factors that make asbestos so dangerous. Thankfully, asbestos is rarely used, so it’s not as big of a problem as it used to be. But the downstream effects of asbestos exposure can take decades to fully develop, so there are still millions of people with a history of asbestos exposure who are still vulnerable to mesothelioma.

This is attributable to the latency period of mesothelioma. But what exactly is this latency, why does it exist, and what should you do about it?

A Primer on Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a specific type of cancer that’s particularly uncommon and aggressive. There are multiple types of mesothelioma, but it commonly affects the lungs or the abdomen. Even so, every type of mesothelioma is typically attributable to exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos is a remarkable material that was heavily used because of its inexpensiveness, as well as its insulative and fire-resistant properties. However, asbestos is full of tiny, jagged fibers that can do a lot of damage if inhaled or swallowed. Even minimal asbestos exposure can introduce these fires in your body, eventually causing inflammation and biological processes that can result in the development of mesothelioma.

Once mesothelioma begins to develop, the outlook is generally not good. There are many treatment methods that can help relieve symptoms and potentially even drive this cancer into remission, but unfortunately, this disease has a very high fatality rate.

The Mesothelioma Latency Period

Generally, mesothelioma develops slowly and without apparent symptoms in a stage known as the “latency period.” This period can last anywhere from 10 to 50 years. Researchers still aren’t exactly sure how mesothelioma manifests and develops, but our current scientific understanding leads us to believe there are several phases:

·       Asbestos exposure. First, there is the initial exposure to asbestos. This can be a single incident or a sequence of exposure events that happen habitually or in succession.

·       Asbestos fiber settling. Asbestos fibers eventually begin to settle near the mesothelial cells of your body (often, but not always around the lungs).

·       Inflammation. Once these fibers have lodged themselves into the tissue of your body, they can trigger the onset of inflammation. This may or may not present noticeable symptoms in the patient.

·       Biological responses. Inflammation from asbestos fibers leads to biological responses, which in turn, can lead to the development of mesothelioma.

·       Initial cancer development. Once the cancer begins to develop, it grows and spreads quickly, sometimes spreading throughout the body.

What Affects the Latency Period?

So what affects the duration of the latency period?

·       Severity of exposure. This personally depends on the severity of exposure. Passive, secondhand exposure can still lead to mesothelioma, but the latency period tends to be longer. Additionally, wearing protective gear can shield you from some or most of the risk of asbestos exposure.

·       Duration of exposure. The duration of exposure matters as well. As you might expect, the more time you spend breathing in or swallowing asbestos fibers, the more fibers you’ll accumulate and the shorter your latency period will be.

·       Frequency of exposure. The people at highest risk for mesothelioma, and the ones with the shortest latency periods, are the ones who encounter asbestos frequently and without protection. These were typically people working in environments where asbestos was common.

·       Age. Age may play a role in the latency period duration. As you might expect, the older you get, the shorter the latency period tends to be.

·       Genetic factors. Certain genetic differences between individuals can lead to shorter or longer weighty durations. For example, women generally have a longer mesothelioma latency period than men.

Key Takeaways

There are several key takeaways here:

·       Asbestos exposure has consequences even decades after the fact. We know that asbestos is a hazardous material, so it’s tempting to think you may notice pain or discomfort immediately upon being exposed. But this isn’t always the case; asbestos exposure can have consequences even decades after the fact.

·       A lack of symptoms doesn’t mean you’re safe. If you were once exposed to asbestos and you haven’t noticed any physical symptoms, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe. You could be in the middle of a latency period, only to develop mesothelioma later in your life.

·       Proactive screenings matter. The earlier you catch mesothelioma, the better your prognosis will be. If you know or suspect you’ve been exposed to asbestos, get proactive screenings.

Mesothelioma is a scary and potentially deadly disease, but it’s thankfully rare now that we’ve recognized the risks associated with asbestos. If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos in the past, it’s important to be proactive about mesothelioma screenings so you can get access to the care and treatment you need – before it’s too late. 

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.