Lung Cancer from Asbestos Exposure
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, there are approximately 235,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States, and approximately 130,000 deaths. This cancer is associated with asbestos exposure.
Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins its growth within the lungs. There are two major types: small-cell and non-small-cell. A third less common type of lung cancer is called carcinoid. There are also five sub-categories for cancer of the lungs. Small cell lung cancer can be small cell carcinoma (oat cell cancer) or combined small cell carcinoma.
Non-small cell lung cancer can be categorized as adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or large cell carcinoma. All types of lung cancer can be caused by exposure to asbestos. Inhaled asbestos fibers lodge in the lung tissue and over time contribute to the development of lung cancer. Once a tumor begins growing in the lungs, it may metastasize (or spread) to other parts of the body.
Victims of asbestos-associated lung cancer have often suffered from non-cancerous asbestosis before the lung cancer developed. Lung cancer may develop 20 or more years after initial asbestos exposure.
Does Exposure to Asbestos Cause Lung Cancer?
Inhalation of asbestos fibers has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer in many medical studies. The greater the exposure to asbestos, the higher the risk of lung cancer.
Individuals who have been exposed (or suspect that they have been exposed) to asbestos fibers on the job, through the environment, or at home via a family contact should inform their doctor about their exposure history.
Asbestos Exposure and Smoking Tobacco
The likelihood of developing lung cancer after asbestos exposure is substantially increased in individuals who have smoked. While a person can develop lung cancer following asbestos exposure even if that person has no other risk factors, asbestos exposure in conjunction with cigarette smoking will exponentially increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
A smoker who was exposed to asbestos is 14.4 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a smoker who was not exposed to asbestos.
Studies have shown that individuals who both smoked and have been exposed to asbestos are 50-90 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a person who neither smoked nor was exposed to asbestos. Cigarette smokers who have been to asbestos and develop lung cancer are still entitled to compensation for their damages.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Roughly a quarter of all lung cancer patients do not show symptoms before they are diagnosed. The symptoms of asbestos-related cancer may not become apparent for many decades after the first asbestos exposure. It is particularly important to check with a doctor if any of the following symptoms develop:
- Shortness of breath
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored spit or phlegm
- Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing or coughing
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Feeling tired or weak
- Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that do not go away or keep coming back
How is lung cancer diagnosed?
A lung biopsy is a medically recognized procedure to confirm a diagnosis. Lung tissue or fluid may be taken by a bronchoscopy (a thin, lighted tube inserted through the nose or mouth that removes a tiny tissue sample from the lungs) or by a thoracentesis (a needle inserted through the chest into the lung).
The tissue or fluid sample will be examined under a microscope by a pathologist. If the pathologist diagnoses, your doctor will refer you to a cancer doctor, known as an oncologist. The oncologist will discuss treatment options and provide you with resources to better handle your diagnosis. A pathology report diagnosing lung cancer is essential to support a compensation claim.
What Factors Affect the Risk of Developing Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer?
- Dose (how much asbestos an individual was exposed to)
- Duration (how long an individual was exposed)
- Size, shape, and chemical makeup of the asbestos fibers
- Individual risk factors, such as smoking and pre-existing lung disease
- Length of time since asbestos exposure
 Asbestos, Smoking, and Lung Cancer: An Update (2020)
 Asbestos Exposure and Smoking: A Multiplicative Effect (2015)