Page Updated: June 14, 2019

Lung Cancer and Asbestos

Asbestos is a set of naturally-occurring minerals that possess certain traits that make them useful. They resist high temperatures and chemical reactions, have tensile strength, and don’t conduct electric currents. These qualities helped make asbestos a widely-used product in various industries. However, as useful as asbestos may have been in various industries, they are also toxic carcinogens that cause deadly diseases, including lung cancer.

If you’ve developed mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, or asbestosis, you may be entitled to significant compensation. We invite you to fill out our form today for a free Financial Compensation Packet, filled with information about top mesothelioma lawyers in your area, how to get paid in 90 days, how to file an asbestos trust fund claim, and much more. 

Doctor examining a lung radiography

How Asbestos Causes Lung Cancer

The primary cause of asbestos-related diseases is prolonged exposure to asbestos dust in materials which contain either chrysotile or amphibole asbestos fibers. Chrysotile (white) asbestos fibers are spiral-shaped and are sometimes referred to as serpentine asbestos. This is the most widely-used form of asbestos in industrial and construction applications. Amphibole asbestos fibers are needle-shaped and come in several forms, including amosite, crocidolite, and tremolite.

Asbestos usually enters the body when inhaled or swallowed. Inhalation is the most common method of infiltration because the fibers are small and are easily introduced into the air by human activity.

The majority of asbestos exposure cases occur during the mining and processing of the raw minerals, the constant handling of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), or when older buildings made before the early 1980s are renovated or torn down. Sometimes asbestos is transferred second-hand to family members via clothing and protective gear.

No matter how asbestos becomes lodged in the body, asbestos fibers can build up in delicate tissue after exposure. Asbestos fibers can’t be expelled completely by the body’s natural defenses. Instead, they linger in the soft, vulnerable tissue of the mesothelium, the lungs, and other organs in the chest and abdomen.

Over time, the asbestos fibers cause scarring and inflammation in the tissue where they are lodged. Eventually, these inflammations mutate into cancerous growths that cause several life-threatening illnesses, including lung cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there is no such thing as “safe” asbestos, although people exposed to the harmful minerals for prolonged periods are more susceptible to developing an illness.

Risk Factors

Even though asbestos use in the U.S. has declined sharply over the past 40 years, its widespread use in a myriad of industries throughout much of the 20th Century places everyone at some level of risk to asbestos exposure. Though other materials are now used as alternatives, asbestos is still legally used by a few industries, primarily by automobile manufacturers to make brake shoes and clutch pads.

In addition, homes, schools, public buildings, and other structures built before the early 1980s still contain large amounts of asbestos-derived materials, including insulation, vinyl flooring, roofing materials, and various types of pipes. Also, since asbestos occurs naturally, people can be exposed to small amounts if they live near abandoned mines or rocky deposits which undergo wind and water erosion.

Per the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the risk factors for asbestos exposure are:

  • Dose (the amount of asbestos a person is exposed to on a regular basis)
  • Duration (the amount of time a person undergoes exposure to asbestos)
  • Shape, size, and chemical composition of the asbestos fibers
  • Exposure source (if it occurs in nature or if it is caused by human activity)
  • Individual risk factors (pre-existing lung illnesses or smoking tobacco products)

Risk factors vary from person to person, but the type of asbestos fibers involved in the exposure determines the severity of the negative consequences. For instance, the needle-like structure of amphibole asbestos makes it more likely for a person to develop mesothelioma.

Amphibole asbestos tends to penetrate tissue easier and lingers longer in the body. Chrysotile asbestos’ prolific use by various industries is more likely to cause lung cancer because the more rigid structure of amphibole asbestos doesn’t lend itself to the manufacture of as many derivatives.

People who smoke regularly increase their chances of developing lung cancer. Asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer in non-smokers, but heavy smokers are more likely to develop cancers in the respiratory system, including the throat and lungs.

Signs and Symptoms of Asbestos Lung Cancer

Asbestos exposure causes a type of cancer known as small-cell lung cancer. According to ACS, between 10 and 15% of all lung cancers are of this type. The primary cause is smoking, although non-smokers are at risk if they are exposed to secondhand smoke, radon, and asbestos fibers.

Similar to mesothelioma, most lung cancers do not manifest themselves through signs and symptoms until it’s too late to treat them. By the time a physician detects and diagnoses small-cell lung cancer, the disease is usually too advanced. Thus, any medical treatment of the cancer will only alleviate a patient’s symptoms and extend life expectancy for a period of time, but it will not cure the disease.

The signs and symptoms of small-cell lung cancer are:

  • A cough that does not go away and/or gets worse over time
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chronic tiredness
  • Changes in an existing cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Bone pain
  • Frequent lung infections
  • Headaches

Treatment for Asbestos Lung Cancer

Per the National Institutes of Health’s National Lung, Heart, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), no treatments exist that can undo the adverse effects of asbestos on the lungs. Medical intervention can, however, relieve a patient’s symptoms, slow the development of the lung cancer, and stave off complications.

Patients with small-cell lung cancer have several options for treatment. Currently, there are four major types of treatment: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or targeted therapy. These treatments can slow down the progress of the cancer by surgically removing affected tissue or killing off cancer cells with radiation or chemicals.

Sometimes, a combination of two or more of these treatments can prevent, or at least delay, the onset of complications caused by cancer. They may also extend a patient’s life expectancy by months, even years.

Additional Help with Asbestos Lung Cancer

If you’ve been injured by mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, or asbestosis, keep in mind that there is a good chance that you’ll qualify for considerable compensation. Don’t forget to fill out our form to get our free Financial Compensation Packet, filled with information on the leading asbestos and mesothelioma attorneys in your area.