Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers, and researchers estimate about 3 – 4% of all cases can be attributed to asbestos exposure.
Asbestos lung cancer is often misdiagnosed as mesothelioma.
- Those with asbestos lung cancer may not experience symptoms for decades.
- Smoking increases the risk of developing asbestos lung cancer.
- There are an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 lung cancer deaths related to asbestos each year.
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer worldwide and accounted for 1.8 million deaths in 2018. While smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, it’s estimated that each year between 2,000 and 3,000 of all lung cancer deaths are related to asbestos exposure.
Asbestos-related lung cancer develops after asbestos fibers are inhaled and become embedded in the lung tissue. Smoking, coupled with asbestos exposure, creates an even greater risk of developing the cancer. Exposure to asbestos may cause non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) or small cell lung cancer (SCLC).Asbestos and Lung Cancer
In general, research has shown lung cancer typically develops as a result of toxic exposure, including smoking and radon. Exposure to asbestos is an independent risk factor for the development of lung cancer. The cancer may develop in any individual with exposure to asbestos, but is most common in those with prolonged exposure and a history of smoking. The two forms of asbestos-related lung cancer are NSCLC and SCLC.
Between 80 – 85% of all lung cancer diagnoses are NSCLC, and it is also the most common form of asbestos-related lung cancer. NSCLC is the most prevalent asbestos lung cancer among both men and women, as well as smokers and non-smokers.
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) accounts for 10 – 15% of all lung cancer diagnoses. In most cases, this form is caused by smoking. As such, non-smokers who have been exposed to asbestos are more likely to develop NSLC than SCLC.Risk Factors of Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer
Asbestos-related lung cancer is caused by exposure to any form of asbestos fiber. Studies have found that lung cancer risk increases with greater exposure to asbestos. The cancer is most common among those handling asbestos on a regular basis, such as those with occupational exposure to the toxin. Some occupations with the greatest risk of asbestos exposure include construction workers, shipyard workers and U.S. Navy veterans.
In most cases, it takes at least 15 years for symptoms of asbestos lung cancer to present. Symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer are the same as lung cancer caused by other means, which can complicate diagnosis and delay treatment, especially in those with no history of smoking.
In addition to the dose of asbestos, the presence of other risk factors compounds the likelihood of developing the cancer. Cigarette smoking coupled with asbestos exposure creates a dramatically increased risk of lung cancer. One study found that asbestos-exposed workers who also had a history of smoking had a 28 times greater chance of dying from lung cancer than those without asbestos exposure. Additionally, the study found that when asbestos-exposed individuals with a smoking history also had asbestosis (scarring of the lung tissue), risk of mortality from lung cancer increased by more than 36 times.
While some risk factors cannot be combatted, such as the amount of asbestos exposure and if asbestosis has developed, smoking history can be altered. Studies have found that 30 years after smoking cessation, the risk of asbestos-lung cancer among previous smokers returns to that of a non-smoker. Quitting smoking is often one of the first things recommended by medical professionals if there’s a known history of asbestos exposure.