The Facts About Asbestos Exposure and Lung Cancer

The Facts About Asbestos Exposure and Lung Cancer

Asbestos exposure causes more than just mesothelioma cancer. It can be a contributing factor to a lung cancer diagnosis – a cancer than that affects about 14% of cancer victims, making it the second most common cancer in both men and women according to the American Cancer Society. The devastating reality about lung cancer due to asbestos exposure is that the disease could have been entirely prevented. With corporate greed and companies placing profits above their workers’ health, many workers exposed to asbestos fibers, even for a short period of time, increased their risk of developing lung cancer up to five times.

What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is a cancer that starts in the lungs, and spreads to other organs. Abnormal cells in the lung mutate and cluster together, all while growing uncontrollably. A tumor then develops from the cluster of infected cells, destroying the surrounding healthy lung tissue. As the cancerous cells grow and multiply, they spread to other organs nearby.

How is Lung Cancer Different Than Mesothelioma?
Lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma have many of the same symptoms and both can be caused by asbestos exposure. The difference between the two is the location of where the cancer originates. If asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs (known as the pleural lining) then pleural mesothelioma is the result. Asbestos fibers in the lung tissue contribute to the diagnosis of lung cancer.

Lung Cancer and Asbestos Exposure
When asbestos fibers become airborne, they are easier to inhale and can become trapped inside the lung. As the fibers work themselves deeper into the tissue of the lungs, the infected areas become inflamed and scarring occurs. The once normal cells begin to change and cluster together ultimately forming tumors in the lung. As the cancer cells continue to grow and multiply, the surrounding healthy tissue becomes more damaged and the organs cease to function properly. These tumors can also spread to other parts of the body, by way of the bloodstream, or the lymph, which is the natural fluid that surrounds the lung tissue.

The Helsinki Criteria was established to offer more concrete evidence and guidelines that some lung and pleural illnesses are connected to asbestos exposure. The group’s studies found that the risk of lung cancer in relation to asbestos exposure varies due to the length of exposure, the industry worked, and the type of asbestos used. According to the Helsinki Criteria, the chances of developing lung cancer are doubled under the following conditions:

  • One year of heavy exposure, or 5 to 10 years of moderate exposure. Heavy exposure includes working with asbestos contaminated materials such as insulation and asbestos spray, as well as exposure in large chunks, like demolishing a building that contains asbestos. Moderate exposure includes occupations like construction workers and shipbuilders.
  • The amount of mixed asbestos fibers to which one is exposed: 25 fibers per milliliter per year (amphibole plus chrysotile asbestos fibers).
  • A previous asbestosis diagnosis.
  • Evidence of retained asbestos fiber levels (2 to 5 million amphibole fibers per gram of dry lung tissue).
  • The overall amount of asbestos in the body is greater than 10,000 per gram of dry lung tissue.

The risk of lung cancer is expected to rise between 0.5% and 4% for each year that a person is continually exposed, making the duration that one is exposed to asbestos one of the most important factors in determining whether a lung cancer is due to asbestos exposure. Smoking plus asbestos exposure increases the risk of developing lung cancer five or more times than smoking alone.

If you believe you are suffering from an asbestos related disease, cancer, or illness such as lung cancer, it’s important to contact an experienced attorney at Goldberg, Persky, & White as soon as possible. The statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit from the time of diagnosis vary from state to state, with two years being one of the most common lengths of time. Many general questions are answered in our Ask an Asbestos Attorney section; please contact us for answers to your specific questions or to discuss, with no obligation, your case.

American Cancer Society, “Key Statistics for Lung Cancer,” (2017). [Link]
Allen Gibbs, MD; Richard Luther Attanoos, MD;  Andrew Churg, MD;  Hans Weill, MD, “The ‘Helsinki Criteria’ for Attribution of Lung Cancer to Asbestos Exposure,” Archives of Pathology Lab Medicine – Vol 131 (February 2007), [Link]


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