What causes asbestos-related lung cancer?

Posted: 22nd Nov 20 8:00 AM

Lung cancer is predominantly thought to be caused by smoking. Asbestos, which was commonly used in many industrial and household products is also known to be a cause for the development of lung cancer.

When a person inhales asbestos fibres, some of those fibres can get lodged in lung tissue and, over time, damage and irritation can cause the development of an asbestos-related disease.

Smokers who have also been exposed to high amounts of asbestos dust have a much greater risk of developing lung cancer. The two toxins – tobacco and asbestos – work together to multiply the risk. The higher the concentration of asbestos dust, the higher the risk of lung cancer.

Symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer

Symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer and lung cancers associated with other causes all present the same general symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain and discomfort
  • Persistent coughing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Hoarseness or wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of the neck or face

Symptoms of lung cancer usually arise only when the cancer has reached a late stage and is often too late for effective treatment.

If you have a history of past exposure to asbestos, it is important to seek regular check-ups with your GP, and request regular X-Rays and/ or scans every 2-3 years to check for asbestos disease.

How does asbestos cause lung cancer?

After inhaling asbestos dust, the microscopic fibres can become caught and lodged in lung tissue.

Over many years, often decades, these fibres can cause enough cellular damage to cause the damaged lung tissue to turn cancerous.

Developing asbestos-related cancer depends on a number of factors, including: overall health, genetics and family history, smoking history, and the duration and intensity of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos exposure can cause the four main types of lung cancer:

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Small-cell carcinoma
  • Large-cell carcinoma

As with other asbestos-related diseases, lung cancer can take many years to develop after exposure, usually taking between 20 and 40 years.

What is the difference between mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer?

Mesothelioma, a cancer caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure, affects the cells of the mesothelium, a layer of membrane that makes up part of the lining of several body cavities: the pleura (thoracic cavity), the peritoneum (abdominal cavity) and the pericardium (heart sac).

Asbestos-related lung cancer, on the other hand, affects only the lung tissue itself, and requires many thousands of hours of exposure to large quantities of asbestos dust for it to develop.

Further reading

What is a pleural effusion?

The role of asbestos in the UK’s high lung cancer rate is being missed and sufferers are losing out

Is there a time limit on asbestos compensation claims?

How many stages of mesothelioma are there?

What is the asbestos compensation claims process?

Mesothelioma cases rise among teachers and hospital staff