Mesothelioma can develop decades after the last exposure to asbestos materials.
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Malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that can develop years, even decades, following the last exposure to asbestos materials. It most often affects the lining of the lungs and chest cavity, although it also may attack the lining of the stomach cavity (peritoneum) and occasionally the lining around the heart (pericardium).
Malignant mesothelioma is diagnosed in about 3,000 new patients each year. Because it generally requires between 15 and 40 years for the disease to manifest, the average age of those diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma is between 45 and 70 years. Most victims are men, presumably because they held most of the jobs in heavy industries that made the greatest use of asbestos.
The three main types of malignant mesothelioma are characterized by the part of the body they effect.
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common variety of the disease, accounting for more than 80% of all cases diagnosed. This is the cancer that attacks the membranes surrounding the lungs, known as pleura.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is cancer of the lining of the stomach, and it comprises about 10% of all malignant mesothelioma cases diagnosed.
Pericardial mesothelioma is cancer found in the membrane that surrounds the heart. Because this disease is so rare, its connection to asbestos exposure is somewhat less well established than is true with pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.