When asbestos-containing materials become damaged or disturbed, toxic asbestos fibers can be released into the air. If these microscopic fibers are inhaled or ingested, there are several illnesses that may potentially develop, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. These illnesses have a latency period ranging from 10 to 50 years.
This latency period can have a significant impact on patients diagnosed with asbestos cancer. For example, when mesothelioma symptoms and other signs of disease take several decades to appear, the disease is often already in its latest stages of development when a diagnosis occurs. As a result, many patients only have the option of palliative treatment remedies that work to provide pain relief, rather than curative treatments.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. The condition develops when the fibers of asbestos become lodged in the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), heart (pericardial mesothelioma), or abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma).
In most instances, this disease takes anywhere between 20 and 50 years to develop. In addition to experiencing difficulty breathing and swallowing, extreme weight loss is also a side effect of malignant mesothelioma cancer.
Another form of asbestos cancer is asbestosis, which also causes intense scarring of the lungs. This disease typically develops after someone has experienced prolonged exposure to asbestos. The latency period with this disease is usually 10 to 30 years, and symptoms include breathing difficulties and a decrease in the elasticity of the lungs.
Besides mesothelioma and asbestosis, lung cancer is another disease that can develop from exposure to asbestos. Lung cancer caused by asbestos can also be enhanced by cigarette smoking and other agents. Pleural plaques are indicators of asbestos exposure as well, but these are not fatal. Instead, they are usually taken as early signs of development for other diseases.
Prognosis for these illnesses is commonly poor because patients typically do not have the option to utilize curable treatment options. For mesothelioma, the average prognosis for a patient is approximately 11 months. For asbestosis or lung cancer, the prognosis is usually longer, but the symptoms may be more painful.
Additional information about mesothelioma may be found through the Mesothelioma Center.