Many people believe that the only people at risk of developing mesothelioma are those who are exposed to asbestos frequently, such as in the workplace. However, even the smallest amount of asbestos can cause mesothelioma later in life. What this means is that any person who has been exposed to asbestos at any point in his or her life has the potential to develop mesothelioma decades later. For example, if a child was exposed to asbestos in the home, that child is at risk of developing mesothelioma later in life even if that child was never exposed to asbestos again as a teenager or as an adult.
According to Cancer.gov, the following are a few factors that determine the exposure effects on humans:
- What quantity of asbestos was an individual exposed to?
- How much time was the individual exposed to the asbestos fibers?
- What are the physical properties of the asbestos that the individual was exposed to?
- What was the source of the asbestos exposure?
- What other risk factors are involved?
- Does the individual have any pre-existing lung disease?
- Does the individual have any genetic factors?
Because of the clear link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, even in small amounts, most industries are no longer using asbestos. However, it has been well established that asbestos has not been banned or outlawed and certainly has not been completely removed from older structures / products and still poses a threat to any person who is exposed to the substance. Even though a small amount of exposure can lead to mesothelioma up to 40 years later, individuals who were exposed to asbestos consistently are at a greater risk of developing cancers such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. Additionally, the severity of a person’s symptoms may be greater if he or she was exposed to asbestos on a regular basis.
Given that asbestos fibers are so small and cannot be felt, tasted, or seen by the naked eye, preventing exposure can be challenging. Asbestos fibers are in the air we breathe, so most people have at least some asbestos fibers in their lungs. As such, all people, regardless of whether they believe they have been exposed to asbestos, should be cognizant of the symptoms associated with asbestos exposure. Moreover, individuals with preexisting lung conditions should be especially aware if they have been exposed to asbestos, since the symptoms of asbestos exposure mimic those of other lung conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory diseases.