Lung Cancer and Asbestos
Asbestos is a known carcinogen or cancer-causing agent. Many people recognize mesothelioma as an asbestos-related cancer, but prolonged asbestos exposure can also lead to lung cancer. This cancer may not be present for several decades after exposure to asbestos, while at least a 15 year latency period is typical. For this reason, it can be difficult to determine if lung cancer is the result of asbestos without an awareness of prior asbestos exposure.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled and become trapped deep in the lungs, they can ultimately lead to a variety of illnesses, including cancer. Sometimes several decades may pass before the development of asbestos-related lung cancer. Unfortunately, it is difficult to distinguish between asbestos-related lung cancer and lung cancer due to other causes. Estimates of the portion of lung cancer due to asbestos exposure range from 3-8%, although the strongest factor in determining the cause of the cancer is knowing that someone has previous asbestos exposure.
Certain associated conditions can be used to determine if lung cancer is related to prior asbestos exposure. The simplest way of making this connection is by the identification of asbestosis in combination with lung cancer. Since asbestosis is an asbestos-specific disease, it is likely that the concurrent lung cancer is also a result of asbestos exposure. In a laboratory, histological examination of tissue can lead to a diagnosis of asbestos-related lung cancer if asbestos bodies are directly observed, which may require an in-depth examination.
Smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer following asbestos exposure. Although both asbestos and smoking carry independent risks for lung cancer, the risk is multiplied when both of these factors are present. Anyone with a history of asbestos exposure should refrain from smoking to avoid this substantial complication.
If you think that your lung cancer may be caused by asbestos exposure, contact us.
- McCormack V, Peto J, Byrnes G, Straif K, Boffetta P. Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality. British Journal of Cancer. 2012; 106(3):575-84.
- Mollo F, Magnani C, Bo P, Burlo P, Cravello M. The attribution of lung cancers to asbestos exposure: a pathologic study of 924 unselected cases. Am J Clin Pathol. 2002; 117(1):90-5.