Although the dangers of exposure to asbestos fibers has now been well-known for many years, the several different diseases that may result may not be. In addition to malignant mesothelioma — a cancer that appears in the mesothelial tissues lining the lungs, peritoneum, pericardium, and chest cavity — other cancers of the lungs, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract have also been connected to asbestos. Asbestos fiber inhalation is also the direct cause of asbestosis, a condition in which the lung tissues become increasingly scarred, seriously reducing lung function.
Malignant mesothelioma is a very devastating diagnosis — most people diagnosed with this cancer die within 12 months of receiving their diagnosis. This is not to say victims of this disease should be without hope. For example, famous scientist Stephen Jay Gould lived for more than 20 years after his mesothelioma diagnosis, eventually succumbing to an unrelated condition. While certainly grim, malignant mesothelioma diagnoses are still relatively rare.
Non-mesothelioma cancers resulting from asbestos exposure are much more variable in survival rates. However, these cancers share a common trait with mesotheliomas — a long period of “latency” between exposure and disease diagnosis. These types of cancers have a somewhat shorter latency period than mesothelioma, in the range of 15 to 30 years.