A very important characteristic of asbestos-related cancers and diseases is the long delay, or latency period, between the asbestos exposure and the onset of disease. It is usually at least 15 years, and sometimes as long as 40 or 50 years, after the person’s first exposure to asbestos before an asbestos-related condition develops in the exposed person.
Because of this latency period, people in North Carolina exposed to asbestos many years ago are still at risk, now and in the future, to develop mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.
Exposure to all types of asbestos is known to cause lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. Generally, the term “cancer” refers to cells that become abnormal. Abnormal cells destroy healthy cells and spread to other parts of the body. Abnormal cells multiply faster than healthy cells and form too much tissue, resulting in a tumor.
Asbestos-related lung cancer occurs inside the lungs.
Malignant mesothelioma is different; this asbestos cancer affects the lining or covering of the affected body part — such as (1) the lung, if it is pleural mesothelioma, or (2) the abdomen, if it is peritoneal mesothelioma, or (3) the heart, if it is pericardial mesothelioma. Each of these three different types of mesothelioma will sometimes be called just “meso”, for short.
Asbestosis is not a cancer; rather it is pulmonary fibrosis, or scarring of the lungs, that was caused by years of breathing in asbestos dust and asbestos fibers.