Mesothelioma, a cancer of the membrane surrounding the lungs, is the most commonly known type of cancer that can result from exposure to asbestos. But asbestos exposure can also cause cancer of the lung tissue itself; this is what is known as lung cancer. There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC), aptly named because the cancer cells are small and round, and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), in which the cancer cells are larger. If a cancer has both small, round cancer cells as well as larger cancer cells, it is called mixed small cell/large cell cancer; however, this type of cancer is relatively rare. Nearly 80 percent of lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancers, while 20 percent are small cell lung cancers.
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is more aggressive and there are fewer treatment options. Only 6 percent of people with this type of cancer live 5 years or longer. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is less aggressive and has more treatment options. 17 percent of people with this type of cancer live 5 years or longer.
Who Gets Lung Cancer from Asbestos Exposure?
If you have been exposed to asbestos, you have an increased risk of developing all types of lung cancer. That risk is also greater if you are a smoker. (At least 85 percent of all lung cancer cases are linked to cigarette smoking.)
Asbestos was used in the manufacturing of many common products up until the 1980s, including automobile brake pads, roofing shingles, insulation material and tiles. Thus, people who worked in a wide variety of occupations are at increased risk of having been exposed to asbestos and developing lung cancer. These include auto mechanics, building engineers, construction workers, painters, electricians, sheet metal workers, warehouse workers, custodians and factory workers.
Lung cancer due to asbestos exposure usually starts in the lining of the bronchi, the tubes into which the trachea divides. However, lung cancer from asbestos can also start in other areas including the bronchioles (small branches of the bronchi), alveoli (lung air sacs) or the trachea.
How is Lung Cancer from Asbestos Exposure Diagnosed?
Early-stage lung cancer from asbestos exposure may be asymptomatic. If you do have symptoms, they may be non-specific, they may be similar to other diseases, or they may develop very gradually. That’s why diagnosing lung cancer from asbestos exposure can be such a challenge.
The first step is for your doctor to take a complete medical history and exam. During the exam, your doctor will listen to your chest with a stethoscope for wheezing, fluid in the lungs or labored breathing. He or she may also order laboratory tests such as a complete blood count, a chest x-ray to see if there is any scarring, lesions or excessive fluid, and a pulmonary function test to measure breathing capacity.
If any abnormalities are detected, a sputum cytology may be performed. This simple test analyzes the patient’s phlegm and can detect cancer cells in their earliest stages. Imaging tests will also be performed, such as a computed tomography scan (CT scan or CAT scan) and a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Finally, a biopsy can definitely confirm a diagnosis of this devastating disease.
Legal Help for Victims of Asbestos and Lung Cancer
The lawyers at our firm have represented hundreds of asbestos lung cancer victims and their families with dignity and compassion. If you or someone you love was exposed to asbestos and developed lung cancer, you have valuable legal rights. Please fill out our online form, or call 1-800 YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529) to speak with one of the experienced asbestos lawyers at our firm.