A common question posed by people afflicted with mesothelioma is, "Why did this happen to me?" The answer is nearly always the same: exposure to asbestos.
When diagnosed in the United States, its onset is typically linked to a history of exposure to asbestos fiber. Asbestos is a mineral that was used for decades as a thermal insulation material. It has been widely known since the 1920s that asbestos is a carcinogen, which means that it causes cancer in humans. However, asbestos was used as an insulator until the mid-1970s and is still present in massive quantities in many buildings today. Unfortunately, in many cases, very little exposure is required to set this cancer in motion. Occupations typically associated with the onset of mesothelioma later in life include:
Asbestos has been used in many other occupations as well. Furthermore, a number of former military personnel, particularly those who served in the Navy, Coast Guard or Merchant Marines, came into contact with asbestos during their service. Massive amounts of asbestos were used in shipbuilding and commercial construction prior to the mid-1970s. Anyone involved with those industries is at a high risk for developing an asbestos-related disease such as asbestosis or mesothelioma. Exposure may have been direct or indirect, lengthy or brief. The typical exposure period is lengthy, but some people with short but intense exposures develop mesothelioma. Mesothelioma can also occur from nonoccupational exposure, as evidenced by manifestation of the disease in women whose exposure came from washing the clothing of men who worked with asbestos.
A unique feature of asbestos-related injuries is the long latency period between exposure and the onset of injury or disease. For mesothelioma, the latency period is between 15 and 50 years or more. That means that a person could have been exposed to asbestos 50 years ago and develop mesothelioma today. The average mesothelioma latency period is approximately 35 to 40 years.