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.

Lung Cancer and Asbestos Exposure

Everyone is exposed to low levels of asbestos in the air, soil, and water. Inhalation of asbestos fibers leading to lung cancer could theoretically come from any one of these sources. However, it is prolonged, daily exposure to asbestos that most often leads to disease. Usually, it takes 10 to 40 years after exposure for symptoms of an asbestos-related disease to develop. 

Asbestos exposure is linked to lung cancer. Individuals with mesothelioma have an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Nearly twice as many people exposed to asbestos die from lung cancer than from mesothelioma.1

Risk Factors for Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Asbestos is a carcinogenic mineral frequently used in the construction, shipbuilding, and automotive industries for its resistance to chemicals, heat, and fire, and its inability to conduct electricity. Given its significant health concerns, in 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency banned all new applications of asbestos. However, asbestos exposure is still one of the most common occupational hazards. 

Occupational exposure to asbestos is the greatest risk factor for developing asbestos-related disease. Professions with the highest risk of exposure to asbestos include 

  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining and milling 
  • Automobile repair 
  • Firefighting

An additional risk factor for asbestos-related lung cancer is smoking. The risk of developing lung cancer for people who smoke and are exposed to asbestos is greater than the individual risks from smoking and asbestos exposure added together. Moreover, quitting smoking decreases the risk of lung cancer in workers exposed to asbestos.2

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

The hallmark symptoms of lung cancer include

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss

Additional symptoms of lung cancer may include

  • Coughing up blood
  • Hoarseness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Upper body swelling
  • Wheezing
  • High-pitched whistling sound with inspiration
  • Shoulder pain, arm pain, and back pain

If you have experienced occupational exposure to asbestos and are currently experiencing symptoms concerning for lung cancer, it is important that you make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. He or she can assess your overall health and your risk for lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. 

Lung Cancer and Asbestos