Asbestos cancer refers to any cancer caused or linked to inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers. Mesothelioma is the most common type of asbestos cancer.
Exposure to asbestos has been linked to multiple cancers.
Asbestos exposure is currently the only confirmed cause of mesothelioma cancer.
Exposure to asbestos fibers has also been linked to lung, larynx and ovarian cancers.
Some suggest that asbestos may also cause stomach, pharynx and colorectal cancers.
All forms of asbestos have been classified as carcinogenic to humans by numerous organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). When inhaled or ingested, these microscopic asbestos fibers become embedded or lodged in the organs, or linings of the organs, and can develop into cancer or other asbestos-related diseases decades later.Types of Asbestos Cancers
While asbestos exposure has been connected to numerous forms of cancer and illnesses, not all studies have conclusively linked the exposure with the resulting health condition. Some cancers, such as mesothelioma cancer, are undeniably related to asbestos exposure, while others, like stomach cancer, have a more vague association. The length and amount of exposure and type of asbestos fiber are just a few of the elements that may influence the resulting health conditions.Mesothelioma
The most common asbestos cancer is malignant mesothelioma cancer. While a rare cancer, impacting about 3,000 Americans each year, studies have repeatedly confirmed that asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma. The first report of mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure was made in 1960. Since then, the connection between the two has only grown.
There are four kinds of mesothelioma:
- Pleural mesothelioma is the most common and affects the lining of the lungs
- Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common and impacts the abdominal cavity
- Pericardial mesothelioma is rare and affects the lining of the heart
- Testicular mesothelioma has only been found in a few cases and impacts the testicles
All types of mesothelioma can be difficult to accurately diagnose because it has a long latency period. Mesothelioma often doesn’t become symptomatic until 10 – 50 years after asbestos exposure. As such, prognosis for mesothelioma is generally poor. However, when caught in the early stages of disease, treatment options tend to be more effective and may extend life expectancy.Asbestos Lung Cancer
Researchers have found that about 3 – 4% of lung cancer cases are linked to asbestos exposure. According to the most recent IARC monograph on asbestos, exposure to long thin asbestos fibers, like chrysotile asbestos, are most likely to cause asbestos lung cancer. Exposure to these fibers causes an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 asbestos-related lung cancer deaths in the United States each year.
Like with other types of lung cancer, smokers who have been exposed to asbestos face an increased risk of developing asbestos lung cancer. Asbestosis, a chronic lung condition caused by asbestos, can also increase the risk of asbestos lung cancer. One study comparing 2,000 insulators with known asbestos exposure to 54,000 workers without exposure found the risk of dying from asbestos lung cancer increased significantly for smokers and those with asbestosis.