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Ominous exposure: 3 FAQs on the latency period for mesothelioma

Exposure to asbestos can cause terrible harm to someone's lungs. In a post earlier this year, we described the difference between mesothelioma and lung cancer, two of the devastating malignant diseases that can result from inhaling asbestos fibers.

But for people who get mesothelioma after asbestos exposure, symptoms do not appear immediately; there is a long latency period in which the disease slowly develops inside the body.

In this post, we will use a Q & A format to discuss three key points about this period.

How long does it take for mesothelioma symptoms to appear after exposure to asbestos?

The latency period for mesothelioma to develop after asbestos exposure varies greatly from person to person. Generally it takes a minimum of 15 to 20 years after exposure for mesothelioma to develop. Usually the latency period is anywhere from 20 to 50 years after exposure.

Sometimes it is even longer than that. Given such long latency periods, many mesothelioma diagnoses are among people (mostly men) who are well into retirement age.

Are there younger people who die from mesothelioma too?

There most certainly are. National Public Radio recently reported on the concern that asbestos-related disease still claims the lives of many people under 55.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of deaths among those 35 to 65 is down compared to previous years. But considering how much more is now known about the dangers of asbestos exposure, the fact that there are still so many deaths among those so young is tragic.

The deaths among this younger age group appear to be an indicator of a so-called "third wave" of asbestos exposure. This is occurring despite some federal regulations that were supposed to reduce such exposure.

Though asbestos production in the U.S. has stopped, asbestos is widely imported from overseas and still used in the production of many common products. Contrary to popular belief, and unlike in many other developed nations, the United States has not banned the use of asbestos. There are also many building renovation or demolition projects that involve handling or exposure to asbestos-containing materials.

How often does exposure to asbestos lead to mesothelioma?

Fortunately, most people who are exposed to asbestos don't develop mesothelioma.

For those who do get mesothelioma, however, the diagnosis is virtually a death sentence. Between 1999 and 2015, there were more than 45,000 deaths from mesothelioma in the U.S.

For many people, the latency period between exposure and the onset of symptoms masks an exceedingly ominous lethal threat.

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