What causes asbestos related lung cancer?

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Asbestos related cancer

What causes asbestos related lung cancer?

Asbestos-related lung cancer is caused by inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once widely used in construction and industrial products. It is a known carcinogen, and exposure to asbestos can cause a variety of health problems, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lungs. Over time, the fibers can damage the lung tissue and lead to cancer. The risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer increases with the amount of asbestos exposure and the duration of exposure.

Around 3000 people in the uk currently die from asbestos lung cancer and a similar number to mesothelioma.

Asbestos-related lung cancer typically takes many years to develop and statistically reflects the legacy of past working conditions.

Widespread use of asbestos containing products in the past, particularly in the post-WWII building industry, led to a large increase in asbestos-related disease in Great Britain over the last few decades.

Annual deaths have increased steeply over the years and this is largely as a result to asbestos exposure prior to the 80s. The number of deaths from asbestos related lung cancer is expected to continue to grow for the rest of the decade where it will peak before declining.

People who are at the highest risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer include:

  • Workers who were exposed to asbestos on the job, such as miners, construction workers, shipbuilders, and factory workers.
  • People who lived near asbestos mines or factories.
  • Family members of asbestos workers who were exposed to asbestos dust brought home on their clothes.

Smoking cigarettes also increases the risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer. People who both smoke and are exposed to asbestos have a much higher risk of developing lung cancer than those who smoke alone or are exposed to asbestos alone.

Asbestos-related lung cancer can take many years to develop, often 20-40 years after first exposure. The most common type of asbestos-related lung cancer is non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Other types of lung cancer that can be caused by asbestos include small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and adenocarcinoma.

Asbestos related lung cancer
Damaged Lung from asbestos exposure

Inhaling asbestos

The lung cancer is caused when someone inhales asbestos. The microscopic fibers become lodged in the alveoli. Over many years, the fibers cause damage to the lung cells to turn becomes cancerous.

They are so tiny, they don’t get stopped by the hairs and mucus designed to protect you.

These asbestos fibers cannot be broken down by the human body.

Diagnosing / curing

Obviously if you are suffering from shortness of breath, persistent coughing or wheezing then you should be consulting your GP for a diagnosis.

Your GP will usually listen to your lung capacity question your working history to see if you may have been exposed. They may refer you onto a specialist for more testing is asbestos is suspected.

X-rays, CT scan of the lungs and lung function tests may be carried out by the specialist.

The NHS says ‘’Lung cancer doesn’t usually cause noticeable symptoms until it’s spread through the lungs or into other parts of the body. This means the outlook for the condition isn’t as good as many other types of cancer’’

This cancer affects the cells of the lungs, and is almost always fatal, with only a third living beyond a year of diagnosis and only 1 in 20 people surviving beyond 20 years.

There is no cure for asbestos-related lung cancer, but there are treatments that can help to relieve symptoms and extend life. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, it is important to see a doctor regularly for lung cancer screenings

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