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Asbestos Lung Cancer

Lung cancer caused by asbestos

Asbestos lung cancer, one of many cancers that asbestos exposure can cause, is lung cancer that develops after asbestos fibers are inhaled and become lodged in the lung tissue. It takes at least 10 years after exposure and inhaling the asbestos fibers for asbestos lung cancer to develop, and studies show that 30 to 35 years is most common.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name of a group minerals found in rock and soil in many areas of the world. Asbestos occurs as bundles of fibers that are useful because they are strong; heat-, fire-, and chemical-resistant; and do not conduct electricity.

Close up view of asbestos fibers

There are two main kinds of asbestos: chrysotile and amphibole. Chrysotile asbestos, the most common type used by industry, is also called white asbestos. Its fibers wrap around each other in a spiral and can be separated and woven. Amphibole asbestos fibers, on the other hand, are straight and more brittle. Both have been linked to cancer.

How do people get exposed to asbestos?

Asbestos exists in many places, and it was even more prevalent years ago. When asbestos was used extensively, before the health risks had been made public and regulations put in place to warn and protect people, working with asbestos products, such as cars’ brake linings, insulation, wall and ceiling tiles, and pipe insulation products, would release asbestos fibers into the air resulting in the workers inhaling and/or swallowing them. In addition, the asbestos dust and fibers could stick on the workers’ clothing, so when they went home, their families were exposed, too.

More on asbestos exposure

In homes as well as businesses, when ceiling, floor, or roofing tiles made with asbestos were disturbed—by drilling or being pulled down for replacement or simply through being worn down over time—asbestos fibers released into the air to be swallowed or inhaled. Asbestos can get in water when cement pipes reinforced with asbestos corrode. In the aftermath of 911, the rescue workers were surrounded by, and therefore breathing, clouds of asbestos fibers that had been released into the air.

Even today, with asbestos regulated and health risks known, exposure is not uncommon. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, the most common occupational exposures in the US today happen during repair, renovation, removal, or maintenance of older asbestos-containing products such as drywall, tiles, ceilings, etc. The most at-risk trades are construction, plumbers, electricians, and shipbuilders. Veterans are also on a short-list of occupations that experienced increased exposure due to asbestos use in ships, among other factors. In addition, homes that contain insulation made before 1990 or building materials produced before 1975 before asbestos was banned for fireproofing may contain asbestos-containing products that are eroding, and therefore leaching asbestos fibers into the air to be breathed and swallowed. And, of course, any disturbance of these products—for renovating, or removal, or replacement, or repair—will certainly release those same fibers. That is why you may have seen a tent around a building being renovated or repaired and the workers renovating it wearing special clothing and masks—they would be following OSHA regulations to protect themselves and the environment from the asbestos fibers being released as a result of their work.

How do you get asbestos lung cancer?

Anyone may be (and probably has been) exposed to asbestos during their lifetime. But it usually takes repeated exposure over time to become ill. And studies show that the greater the exposure to asbestos—in terms of frequency and volume—the higher the risk is of developing asbestos lung cancer. Asbestos exposure can cause many possible health outcomes and cancers. In addition to asbestos lung cancer, it may lead to mesothelioma, asbestosis, and cancer of the larynx or ovaries, to name a few examples. It is where the asbestos lands or lodges in the body that determines the resultant illness.

When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they may simply be trapped on mucous to be swallowed or coughed up. However, they may make their way into the lungs and land on the lung tissue. It is when asbestos gets trapped in the lung tissue that it can cause inflammation and scarring and, eventually, asbestos lung cancer.

It takes years after this initial exposure to develop asbestos lung cancer. While some cases of asbestos lung cancer may be found as soon as 10 years after exposure, it usually takes at least 15 years after exposure to develop, with most studies finding that 30 to 35 years is more common. This lengthy time to develop can make it hard to track down the initial exposure and cause. It also can make diagnosis difficult.

What are the symptoms of asbestos lung cancer?

The symptoms of asbestos lung cancer are the same as those of many other lung ailments. They include:

  • difficulty breathing or catching one’s breath
  • chest pain or a tight feeling in the chest
  • coughing
  • weight loss
  • general fatigue

The fact that many of these symptoms are also associated with other, more common ailments, together with the fact that asbestos lung cancer takes so many years after exposure to develop, is another reason why asbestos lung cancer is often not detected and diagnosed until the cancer is advanced.

What if you smoke or used to smoke?

The risk of developing asbestos lung cancer is greatly increased for people who smoke or used to smoke. In fact, the American Lung Association has estimated that a person who smokes and has a history of asbestos exposure is 50 times more likely to develop lung cancer than someone who never smoked. However, it is not possible to get asbestos lung cancer unless asbestos is a factor. If asbestos is not involved, then the diagnosis is simply lung cancer. A diagnosis of asbestos lung cancer means, by definition, that asbestos has been found in the lung tissue.

How is asbestos lung cancer diagnosed?

Asbestos lung cancer is diagnosed through an analysis of:

  • Symptoms reported
  • The findings of a physical exam
  • The patient’s history
  • Various medical tests.

Symptoms that are indicative of possible lung problems include difficulty breathing or catching one’s breath, chest pain or a tight feeling in the chest, coughing, weight loss, or general fatigue. When reported to your doctor, they will undoubtedly examine you. Your doctor will listen to your breathing; and perhaps examine your legs for signs of swelling or your fingertips or toes for clubbing, which is an abnormal widening that can be indicative of lung-related issues.

Your doctor will ask you questions not only about your current health and symptoms, but also about your history—to see if and when you could have been exposed to asbestos. They may ask about where you have lived, were you have worked, the condition and age of buildings where you have lived and worked, and jobs you have held, to try to determine if and when you could have been exposed to asbestos. If you have been exposed to asbestos and are aware of it, your doctor will want to explore how much and how often.

If these initial examinations and conversations warrant it, your doctor may order tests. These may include:

  • Chest x-ray, which can show masses or abnormal fluid if lung cancer is present
  • Lung function test, which is a test to see how much air you can breathe in and out, how fast you can breathe in and out, and how well blood is delivering oxygen to your blood.
  • A bronchoscopy, during which material is rinsed out of the lungs and analyzed for the presence of asbestos fibers
  • A lung biopsy, in which pieces of the lung are removed surgically for examination to detect microscopic asbestos fibers

Are there treatments for asbestos lung cancer?

Asbestos lung cancer is treated via the same options available for lung cancer. These are:

  • Radiation treatment
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Targeted therapy, which involves using a combination of medicines and other substances to attack only the lung cancer cells so normal cells are not harmed

Because asbestos lung cancer takes at least 10 years to develop, it is often quite advanced once it is found, which negatively impacts the prognosis.

History of Asbestos Health Issues and Regulation

The health problems of asbestos were actually known at least as long ago as early Roman times when Pliny the Elder observed that workers who worked with asbestos experienced many health issues. And he suggested making a respiration device from pig bladders for asbestos miners, which indicates they were aware of asbestos’ effect on lungs. There are other examples from more recent history, too, of asbestos being cited as causing health problems. And there is also evidence that asbestos manufacturers knew of the health issues in the 1940s and 50s, but chose to conceal that information.

It was not until the 1970s that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and other US agencies began to regulate asbestos in America. In 1971, OSHA implemented some guidelines and regulations concerning asbestos exposure in the workplace. In 1972, the Association Advancing Occupational and Environmental Health (ACGIH) listed asbestos as a human carcinogen. Throughout the 1970s, the EPA introduced some new rules and regulations regarding the use of asbestos, and in the late 1977, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned asbestos use in wall-patching compounds and in artificial fireplace embers because those uses could introduce asbestos into the surrounding area. In 1979, hairdryer manufactures stopped using asbestos in their products voluntarily. But it was not until 1989 that the EPA banned all new uses of asbestos, but even that, by definition, excluded preexisting uses. At the same time, the EPA established regulations requiring inspections of schools for asbestos hazards, such as damaged asbestos.

In spite of the fact that asbestos is not banned in the USA, since regulations began to be introduced in the 1970s, its use has dropped dramatically. Whereas in 1973, asbestos consumption in the US was estimated at about 803,000 metric tons, by 2015 it was only about 360 metric tons. But so much damage had already been done and so much asbestos remains, to this day, in many buildings and locations and products.

What are your options if you have asbestos lung cancer or if you have lung cancer and suspect or wonder if asbestos may be a contributing factor?

Your best option if you have asbestos lung cancer or if you have lung cancer and you suspect that asbestos may be involved is to contact a reputable experienced attorney.

Why? Because if you have asbestos lung cancer, you may be entitled to compensation. An established law firm has the experience, manpower, expertise, and resources to track down possible exposure sites and products.

Contact us for a free consultation

We would be honored to try to help you at this most difficult time. A consultation with one of our experienced attorneys is free. And we are known for our compassionate personalized service. If we determine that you have a case, we will work with you tirelessly to track down and hold accountable those responsible for the exposure that precipitated your developing asbestos lung cancer. Smoking or a history of smoking does not matter. Remember, it is exposure to asbestos, regardless of smoking habits or history, that causes asbestos lung cancer.

You can call us at 516-746-7000 or submit your case details online. Someone will contact you shortly to discuss your history, your illness, and ways in which we may be able to help you. The consultation is free, and our services, should you decide to move forward, are also free. We only receive compensation if you win your case.

We look forward to hearing from you. We are confident that you, like others before you, will be glad you called and will find our lawyers to be exactly the kinds of compassionate, competent partners you need during this difficult and painful time.