Mesothelioma, also known as asbestos cancer, is one of the most rare and aggressive forms of cancer that is difficult to treat, almost impossible to cure, and has a very poor prognosis.
One of the reasons why this form of cancer is difficult to diagnose with a poor prognosis is due to its long latency period.
Latency period is the time between the initial exposure to asbestos and the first definite diagnosis.
The latency period of mesothelioma is long but it is also highly variable, and can range anywhere from 10 to 50 years (or more).
Compared to other types of cancers, the latency period for mesothelioma is relatively long. The typical period latency period is said to be 20 to 50 years. Statistics show that the shortest possible latency period for the cancer is 10-15 years while the longest is more than 50 years.
Some studies indicate that low asbestos exposure levels and shorter durations of exposure can lead to longer latency periods. On the other hand, high exposure levels and longer durations of exposure can lead to shorter latency periods.
Because of the long latency period and lack of early symptoms, most people are diagnosed with the disease when it’s right in its last stages. During this time, the cancer usually has spread and metastasized to other organs or parts of the body, making it hard to cure with available treatment options such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and even surgery.
In most cases, these treatments in addition to alternative therapy, are administered to the patients to alleviate the symptoms, improve their life quality, and improve their survival rates. In other words, early diagnosis followed by proper treatment can improve prognosis.
# Factors Affecting Mesothelioma Latency Period
The latency period of mesothelioma varies among individuals as various factors determine how long it lasts.
These factors include;
1. Level of Asbestos Exposure
Generally, the length of mesothelioma latency period depends on how severe the exposure was.
Studies indicate that low asbestos exposure leads to longer latency periods while high asbestos exposure leads to shorter latency periods.
There is no safe exposure level of asbestos. Any inhaled or ingested fibers, given enough time, may cause mesothelioma.
Statistics show that most asbestos exposures occurred in the workplace of the victims.
There are certain occupations that exposed individuals to greater amounts of asbestos compared to others. Also, individuals who held their occupations for a long time had shorter latency periods.
Some of these occupations include shipyard work, dock work, insulators, asbestos mining, boiler maintenance, including others.
3. Location of Mesothelioma
The location of the cancer also affects the latency period.
Research indicates that pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the lungs) has the longest latency period, with the period ranging between 20-40 years. It’s followed by peritoneal mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the stomach lining), and then pericardial mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the heart lining).
4. Type of Asbestos
There are various types of asbestos such as Amosite, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Anthophyllite, and Actinolite. However, not all cause mesothelioma.
Crocidolite happens to be the deadliest and is known to cause shorter latency periods.
5. Duration of Exposure
The length of mesothelioma latency period is affected by the duration a person has been exposed to asbestos. The longer the exposure duration, the shorter the latency period and vice versa.
More fibers enter the body the longer someone is exposed to asbestos. The risk of mesothelioma increases.
6. Age and Gender
Women have longer latency periods compared to men. The average latency period for women is 53 years while that for men is 48- a 5 years difference.
Older individuals who have been exposed to asbestos often have shorter latency period compared to younger individuals. This is because the immune function of older people is not as strong as that of younger people.
In other words, their bodies’ capability to eliminate lodged asbestos fiber and fight the cancer is lower compared to that of young, energetic individuals.