Asbestos Exposure and Lung Cancer

Earlier blog posts have specifically addressed the link between asbestos exposure and the development of mesothelioma, but in today’s post we are going to examine the connection between asbestos exposure and lung cancer.

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is a deadly disease that affects the tissues of the lung.  The cell tissues experience uncontrolled cell growth that can spread to other parts of the body.  Lung cancer is different from mesothelioma because mesothelioma affects the pleura of the lungs, which is the outer lining of the lungs and the internal chest wall.  Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pains, coughing, and weight loss.

Smoking is the main source of lung cancer, causing 80-90% of all lung cancers.  The majority of lung cancers are one of two types: small-cell lung carcinoma (SCLC), also known as oat cell cancer, and non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC).

Lung cancer is treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and the long term prognosis depends on factors such as the type of cancer, the degree of spread and the person’s health.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was often used in construction materials in the past because of its desirable physical properties.  The term asbestos actually derives from a Greek term that means “unquenchable” or “inextinguishable,” and it was often used insulation in many products.  Some of these products included pipes, bricks, fire retardant coatings, gaskets, and flooring.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that scientists began to notice the adverse effects of asbestos exposure on workers in mining towns.  Because of its toxic properties, many government regulations have been enacted to control the deterioration and demolition of materials containing asbestos.

Can asbestos exposure lead to lung cancer?

Several studies have shown that people who work near asbestos are several times more likely to develop lung cancer.  In fact, lung cancer is the most frequently diagnosed asbestos-related disease.  When workers inhale airborne fibrous asbestos, the fibers stick to the mucus in their throat, trachea and lungs, where they can be cleared if the person coughs them up or swallows them.  However, fibers that reach the ends of the airways in the lungs stay on the outer lining and continually irritate the lung, eventually causing lung cancer or mesothelioma.

How does smoking relate to asbestos and lung cancer?

Asbestos exposure combined with smoking leads to a higher risk – as much as five times – of developing lung cancer that is many times greater than just exposure to one of the factors individually.  Compared to non-smokers, workers who both (1) smoke and (2) have been exposed to asbestos face a risk of lung cancer that is between 50 and 90 times greater.

Interestingly enough, the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure does not increase the risk of mesothelioma, just lung cancer.  However, even though smoking causes a risk of lung cancer (10% of smokers develop lung cancer), asbestos greatly increases the risk.  Two factors are particularly illuminating when it comes to the link between asbestos, smoking, and lung cancer.  First, most of the workers who have been exposed to asbestos do not develop lung cancers, indicating that among the exposed workers there is clearly a difference in risk when smoking is implicated.  Second, because tobacco smoke is the primary cause of lung cancer (90% of all lung cancer cases can be attributed to tobacco smoking), we can conclude that smoking is a significant exacerbating factor when it comes to the risk of lung cancer.

Contact an experienced attorney

If you or someone you know has been exposed to asbestos, you may be eligible for compensation.  Please contact an experienced asbestos-related claim attorney today.


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