Mesothelioma and Seniors: What You Need to Know

This article is a reprint courtesy of our friends over at and was authored by Rachel Gilner, Outreach Coordinator.

Mesothelioma is most commonly found in seniors, with the average age of diagnosis at 62 years old.  Mesothelioma has a latency period of 20-50 years, so an older demographic who may have been exposed in the early 19th century would just now be seeing signs and symptoms.  There are a few other factors that contribute to the high number of mesothelioma cases in seniors such as occupational settings, and asbestos exposure in WWII.


Mesothelioma is a rare cancer primarily caused by exposure to asbestos.  The most common type is Pleural Mesothelioma, which affects the lining of your lungs.  The asbestos fibers are lodged in this area causing irritation; this is when signs and symptoms will begin to occur.  There currently is no cure for mesothelioma, so awareness is the only prevention for this disease.

Occupational Settings and Seniors

Seniors were a part of the workforce that was more likely to experience asbestos exposure on the job since asbestos was used more frequently before the 1970s and ’80s.  According to NIOSH, over 75 occupational groups are known to have exposed workers to asbestos.  The mining industry has been shut down in the U.S but at one time was a very popular occupation. When asbestos mining ended, with the closing of Lowell chrysotile quarry, the highest risk of occupational exposure was in the construction industry.  They began using asbestos for many products throughout the 19th century to build homes and other building structures.

WWII and Asbestos Exposure

WWII lasted between 1939 -1945, the time when asbestos was discovered to have an excellent resistance to heat.  Asbestos was used in all aspects of the military, but the most use was in the navy ships and shipyards.  Veterans who served before the hazardous material was phased out (1940-1970) are at most risk as the navy has made very little effort to inform sailors of the potential dangers.

Mesothelioma Takes Decades to Discover

This disease takes anywhere form 20-50 years after being exposed to asbestos to show signs of symptoms.  When mesothelioma symptoms start occurring (chest aches, shortness of breath) they are often confused with many other illnesses and often go un-tended to.  The most unfortunate part of developing mesothelioma is that it is often diagnosed at a much later stage than other cancers because it has been dormant in your body for so long.  Although mesothelioma has been found in young adults, the majority of cases are in people over the age of 60.

With no warnings of a health hazard in regards to asbestos throughout the 19th century, many senior citizens have been exposed.  Whether their exposure comes from serving in WWII, doing industrial work, or even being a family member of a worker, many seniors are at risk for developing mesothelioma.  For additional information on mesothelioma visit The Mesothelioma Center at

The Mesothelioma Center provides patient advocacy services to answer questions about asbestos-related diseases.  If you have been exposed to asbestos they can help you take the proper steps to getting a diagnosis, discovering treatment options, and finding a specialist near you.  Patient advocates can be reached at 800-815-7924 24/7.

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