Mesothelioma is a disease typically characterized by a very long latency period, 15 – 50 years, and exposure to asbestos. The most common form of exposure is occupational. Additionally, a large study found that people first exposed to asbestos before age 10 were less likely to develop mesothelioma than those who were exposed to the fibers later in life. Accordingly, a diagnosis of mesothelioma in a child is extremely rare.
There are certainly potential risks of asbestos exposure for children:
- Secondhand exposure from a parent who worked with asbestos.
- Asbestos in schools
- Environmental asbestos (breathing the air or playing in/eating contaminated soil)
- Asbestos in toys such as chalk, crayons and modeling clay
However, the actual percentage of children who have mesothelioma that can link the disease to asbestos exposure is relatively few.
Scientists and medical professionals alike concur that exposure to asbestos during childhood increases the risk of developing an asbestos related disease, such as mesothelioma, later in life. They further agree that almost all cases of mesothelioma can be linked to asbestos exposure, but some simply cannot. The question remains as to what exactly causes mesothelioma to manifest in children before the typical latency period and without the expected exposure to asbestos. Research is ongoing and scientists are analyzing all aspects of the disease. Similarities of the disease in children and adults are the symptoms and responses to treatments. Differences that are being analyzed include the fact that while most adults suffer from pleural mesothelioma, which is located in the lining of the lung, most children that suffer from the disease have peritoneal mesothelioma, which is a cancer in the abdominal cavity lining. Latency period is also a differentiating factor. Researchers are looking beyond the well-known link to asbestos exposure for links to this deadly disease: such as genetic predispositions or exposure to other drugs or chemicals including prenatal exposure to a drug known as isoniazid.
To date, there remains no cure. Children and adults are being stricken with the disease and have a life expectancy of only four (4) to eighteen (18) months. For both children and adults, early detection is of critical importance. Early detection in youths is even more difficult than in adults because it is so uncommon, that it is rarely an initial diagnosis. Additionally, peritoneal mesothelioma, which is the more common in young mesothelioma sufferers, requires significantly more testing to accurately diagnose.
The young and the older should always get regular check-ups. Never ignore symptoms, and speak openly with your doctor of any medical concerns.