One of the reasons the United States federal government banned asbestos was its association with so many diseases, including lung cancer. Asbestos exposure has been formally recognized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a cause of mesothelioma since 1987. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that most commonly forms in the lining of the lungs and the thoracic cavity. This kind of mesothelioma is known as malignant pleural mesothelioma. It is a rare, highly aggressive and fatal disease. Individuals with mesothelioma may have a higher risk of developing lung cancer.
Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer Treatment by Cancer Type
There are two main types of asbestos-related lung cancer:
- Small cell lung cancer: The less common and more aggressive of the two main types of lung cancer, making up close to 20% of cases.
- Non-small cell lung cancer: The most common kind of lung cancer, making up about 80% of cases.
Small cell lung cancer is highly associated with smoking. Because it is an aggressive cancer that spreads rapidly and extensively, it is usually treated with systemic chemotherapy and radiation therapy, as opposed to localized treatment with surgery.
Non-small cell lung cancer grows and spreads more slowly than small cell lung cancer, making surgery an effective treatment option. Individuals with this kind of lung cancer can also benefit from chemotherapy and radiation.
Although asbestos-related lung cancer cannot be cured, it can, to a certain extent, be prevented by avoiding exposure to asbestos and quitting smoking. Unfortunately, once an individual is exposed to asbestos, there is no known way to prevent the disease from developing.1
Factors That Impact Prognosis
Asbestos-related lung cancer prognosis is impacted by several factors, including lung cancer type.
For small cell lung cancer, such factors include
- Disease stage: a measure of tumor size and spread
- Other health conditions
- Overall health
- Smoking history
Non-small cell lung cancer prognosis is influenced by these same factors, in addition to
- Tumor grade: microscopic features that characterize how quickly a tumor is likely to grow and spread
- Molecular characterization: individual variation in tumor gene mutations
On average, disease recurrence after treatment occurs within a year. Overall survival ranges around 8 to 20 months. Survival decreases with more advanced disease for both types of asbestos-related lung cancer, which is why it is so important to screen for the disease and treat it early. Input from an oncology team composed of medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists can be invaluable in guiding one’s treatment.2
Advanced Treatment Increases Survival
Researchers have made significant progress in understanding and treating asbestos-related lung cancer. Treatment advancements brought about by clinical trials have helped individuals with the disease improve their symptoms, survival and quality of life. Future clinical trials are critical in enhancing current asbestos-related lung cancer treatments and developing new ones. With more research, these trials may one day find a cure for asbestos-related lung cancer.
Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer Treatment