How Long Does Mesothelioma Take to Develop?

Mesothelioma takes between 20 and 60 years to develop after asbestos exposure.

The median latency period is about 40 years. The most prolonged cases have been around 60 to 70 years. A latency period under 15 years is rare.

The majority of people diagnosed with mesothelioma are in their 60s or 70s. After asbestos exposure in the workplace, cancer develops decades later. These diagnoses come after common symptoms of the disease become nagging or debilitating. The most frequent signs are persistent coughing and difficulty breathing.

Studies show less frequent asbestos exposure can lead to long latency periods. Those with high levels of exposure for long periods have shorter latency periods.

Mesothelioma Latency Period

Factors That Impact Latency Period

Research shows that asbestos exposure is the primary factor in disease latency. The duration and intensity of exposure likely determine how long until mesothelioma develops.

Duration and Intensity of Asbestos Exposure

High exposure levels can lead to a shorter latency period. This is true even if the duration of exposure is only a few months. Because of this, those at risk of short latency periods include first responders.

Those who worked in the aftermath of 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina developed mesothelioma from short-term exposure. High levels of asbestos affected paramedics, firefighters and police officers.

Exposure on the job can lead to shorter latency periods. Like exposure to high levels of asbestos, lengthy exposure periods can shorten latency. One study found insulation workers experienced an average latency period of under 30 years.

Fiber Type

Exposure to crocidolite asbestos may lead to shorter latency periods than other types of asbestos. Workers and residents of the Western Australia crocidolite mining district have had short latency periods.


Specific jobs expose workers to very high concentrations of asbestos. More than 75 occupations put workers at risk of asbestos exposure. Depending on the profession, exposure can be long-term or high in asbestos concentration. In these cases, the latency period is likely to be shorter.

Some of these high-risk occupations include jobs in:

  • Insulation
  • Boiler maintenance
  • Shipyards
  • Factories
  • Power plants
  • Textile mills
  • Asbestos mining and processing

Secondhand Exposure

Secondhand asbestos exposure occurs when one person transfers asbestos fibers to someone else. This can happen when workers have fibers on their bodies or clothing.

People who work with asbestos may bring the toxic fibers home. Secondhand exposure poses a threat to family members. This low level of asbestos exposure tends to have a more extended latency than direct exposure.

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If you developed mesothelioma after asbestos exposure, you may be eligible to file a trust fund claim.

Characteristics Associated with Latency Period

Patient age, gender and cancer location are characteristics associated with the latency period. Cancer in the abdomen tends to develop faster. Likewise, men and older adults may have a shorter latency period.

Cancer Location

Researchers estimate pleural mesothelioma is the form with the most prolonged latency. It can take about 30 to 60 years to develop. The latency period for the peritoneal form falls between 20 and 40 years.

One Australian study showed that women with mesothelioma in the abdomen had a latency period of under 30 years. Men with the peritoneal type averaged a 38.8-year latency period, compared to 44 years for pleural cases.


Some studies suggest that women see a longer mesothelioma latency than men. Researchers hypothesize this is a result of lower exposure levels in women.

Men have a history of asbestos exposure on the job. This is especially true for construction, power and factory occupations. These jobs exposed workers to heavy concentrations of asbestos for long durations.

Women are most often linked to secondhand asbestos exposure. These lower exposures lasted for shorter periods. Lower exposure correlates with a more extended latency period. The type of mesothelioma and the patient’s age can affect these numbers.


Some researchers suggest that age at the time of exposure may impact latency. There are currently no studies investigating the science behind the potential connection.

The immune system function drops as people age. Older bodies may have more difficulty removing asbestos fibers. They may also have more trouble repairing damage from asbestos. This likely leads to a shorter latency.

Asbestos is more dangerous for children because they are more active and breathe at higher rates than adults. One research study from the U.K.’s Committee on Carcinogenicity investigated this effect. The results showed that a 5-year-old child’s lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma is about five times greater than that of a 30-year-old adult.

If a person has asbestos exposure at a young age, they may breathe in more toxic fibers than an adult would. This would likely lead to a shortened latency.

Latency Period and Diagnosis

Symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear until the cancer is in stage 3. The earliest signs are shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue. Asbestos exposure occurred 20 to 50 years ago in most cases. Many patients overlook their distant past when considering possible causes of their illness. This often leads to an initial misdiagnosis.

Delayed onset of symptoms and late diagnosis contribute to a poor mesothelioma prognosis. Survival improves with a diagnosis in earlier stages. Aggressive treatment can lead to cancer remission in some cases.

Experts recommend seeking a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist. These doctors have the most experience. They use the latest treatment options to extend mesothelioma life expectancy.