Asbestos Lung Cancer

Asbestos can be a primary or a contributing cause to the development of lung cancer. People who have been exposed to asbestos and are smokers have a far higher risk of developing lung cancer than those who have been exposed to asbestos and do not smoke. The most common form of cancer caused solely by asbestos is malignant mesothelioma. However lung cancer is not an uncommon development for those who are or were smokers during the period of time that they went through asbestos exposure and either inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers. When those fibers lodge in the lung and stay there, they can work in concert with the damage that cigarette smoke does to the lungs; the result is the creation of abnormal cells that are malignant and that develop into a tumor.

Asbestos Lung Cancer Symptoms

One of the insidious characteristics of lung cancer is that often there are no early symptoms. Many people who have been exposed to asbestos and have developed some degree of asbestosis have a persistent cough already, so that cough – often a symptom of lung cancer – may be attributed to the hardened lung tissue caused by asbestosis. However other symptoms that are consistent with asbestos lung cancer include pain in the lungs, difficulty breathing, loss of weight or appetite, and coughing up bloody sputum. Asbestos lung cancer symptoms are consistent with the symptoms for lung cancer caused by smoking or some other primary source.

Asbestos Lung Cancer Prognosis

The prognosis for any form of lung cancer is usually based on the stage of the disease at the time it is diagnosed. As with the other form of asbestos cancer, mesothelioma, an early diagnosis and surgical intervention are generally the most hopeful developments early in the case. If the diagnosed asbestos lung cancer shows a tumor that remains isolated and that has not metastasized to other sites, surgical resection can be effective. In these cases a part or all of the affected lung is removed along with the tumor. Chemotherapy and possibly radiotherapy will follow the surgery as treatment.

The type of lung cancer is also a factor in the prognosis. Non-small cell cancer is much more common in the lungs; eighty percent of all lung cancer cases meet this description. These cells are slower to grow and easier to treat than small cell lung cancer cells, which tend to multiply quickly, spread more rapidly and resist chemotherapy more readily. A patient with non-small cell lung cancer that is diagnosed prior to metastasis will have the most hopeful prognosis. Asbestos lung cancer may have less cause for optimism because of other health problems that the asbestos exposure may have caused, and because it may be a development relatively late in the patient’s life, which means that he or she will be less able to handle the rigors of treatment.

Asbestos Lung Cancer Risk

The primary cause of lung cancer is smoking. There is no doubt among medical professionals about the association of smoking with the development of lung cancer; men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer than men who do not. Women who smoke are 13 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smoking women. And smokers who have been exposed to asbestos are fifty to eighty four times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who have been exposed to asbestos and have never been smokers.

Malignant mesothelioma is a relatively rare disease today with about 3,000 cases diagnosed annually. However the number of lung cancer cases in which asbestos has been a contributing factor is difficult to derive, although the fact that hundreds of thousands of workers were exposed to asbestos during the Twentieth Century and over 200,000 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed every year in this country suggests that asbestos may play a significant role still in the development of this disease.

Asbestos Lung Cancer Life Expectancy

There is no statistical method for separating the life expectancy data on lung cancer in order to isolate cases of the disease caused by asbestos. It can be said that asbestos lung cancer has one factor in common with mesothelioma, and that is the fact that most cases are diagnosed after the age of 65. The statistics on life expectancy usually turn on the number of patients who survive five years after the diagnosis. These figures point to the value of an early diagnosis. For patients diagnosed with lung cancer when it is at Stage One, the tumor is localized. 52.9% of those patients are still living five years later. For patients diagnosed when the cancer has become regional and spread to nearby lymph nodes, the five year survival rate is 24%. For patients whose lung cancer has metastasized to other organs or remote areas in the body, the five year rate of survival is 3.5%.

Sources: 

  1. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/site-kit/docs/CigarettesAsbestos2.pdf, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

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