Lung Cancer from Asbestos Exposure


According to the American Cancer Society, there are approximately 235,000 new cancer diagnoses each year in the United States, and approximately 130,000 deaths from lung cancer. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. 

Specific types of lung cancer have been directly associated with asbestos exposure and there is typically asbestosis in these cases. Unfortunately, lung cancer can develop 20 or more years after initial asbestos exposure, making it hard to trace at times.

Asbestos Lung Cancer and Smoking 

It is widely accepted by medical experts that asbestos exposure in conjunction with cigarette smoking can increase the risk of lung cancer exponentially, with studies showing that an individual who both smoked and worked with asbestos is 50-90 times more likely than the general population to develop lung cancer. 

A smoker who was exposed to asbestos is five times more likely to develop lung cancer than a smoker who was not exposed to asbestos, and studies also show that 1 in 5 people who both smoked and worked with asbestos will pass away from lung cancer.

Cigarette smokers who are exposed to asbestos are entitled to compensation for their damages.

Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer Types

Due to the nature of asbestos-related lung damage, asbestos exposure can actually be linked to the development of any type of lung cancer. The two main types of asbestos-related lung cancer are defined below, along with their subtypes.

Small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer is an aggressive type of lung cancer known for its smaller cell structure and rapid growth. It will quickly spread to the lymph nodes and surrounding organs if not caught early. There are two subtypes:

  • Small cell carcinoma: As the most common type of small cell lung cancer, small cell carcinoma is known for the flat appearance of its cells when viewed through a microscope.
  • Combined small cell carcinoma: The tumors of this subtype are comprised of both small cell carcinoma cells and a lower percentage of non-small cell carcinoma cells.

Non-small cell lung cancer

Defined by the larger cell structure as viewed through a microscope, non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer. It has three subtypes:

  • Adenocarcinoma: This is the most common non-small cell lung cancer subtype. Forming in the outer tissues of the lungs, adenocarcinoma grows slowly and is slow to spread.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Often developing in the bronchi, better-known as the lungs’ airways, this subset is known to grow and spread very slowly.
  • Large cell carcinoma: This is the least common subtype of non-small cell lung cancer, and it is often seen as the most dangerous due to its more rapid growth and spread rates.

Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer Symptoms

Roughly a quarter of all lung cancer victims don't show symptoms before they are diagnosed, but all others do. The symptoms they experience—and that you should look out for if you're at risk of asbestos-related lung cancer—can include:

  • Chest pains
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • A hoarse voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bronchitis

While these symptoms may also indicate less severe conditions, it's important to see a doctor right away if you are experiencing any combination of them so that you don't lose valuable treatment time in the event that you are diagnosed with lung cancer.

Inhalation of asbestos fibers has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer in many studies of asbestos-exposed workers. This increased risk is seen with all forms of asbestos (there is no “safe” type of asbestos in terms of lung cancer risk). In general, the greater the exposure to asbestos, the higher the risk of lung cancer. Most cases of lung cancer in asbestos workers occur at least 15 years after first exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer Statistics

Numerous studies have been performed to determine how asbestos-related lung cancer has impacted and continues to impact society. Here are some quick facts and statistics for you:

  • Asbestos was first confirmed to cause lung cancer in 1942 by the National Cancer Institute.
  • Asbestos exposure is the primary cause for approximately 4% of all U.S. lung cancer cases.
  • Smokers are 10 times more likely to develop lung cancer after asbestos exposure than non-smokers.
  • It can take about 15-35 years for most asbestos-related lung cancers to develop.
  • In most asbestos-related lung cancer cases, the patients were unaware of prior exposure to asbestos.
  • In 2017 alone, around 237,000 people died from asbestos-related lung cancer globally.

How is Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer Detected?

Individuals who have been exposed (or suspect they have been exposed) to asbestos fibers on the job, through the environment, or at home via a family contact should inform their doctor about their exposure history and whether or not they experience any symptoms. The symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer may not become apparent for many decades after the exposure. It is particularly important to check with a doctor if any of the following symptoms develop:

  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
  • A persistent cough that gets worse over time
  • Blood in the sputum (fluid) coughed up from the lungs
  • Pain or tightening in the chest
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling of the neck or face
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue or anemia

A lung biopsy is the only legally reliable test to confirm a diagnosis of lung cancer and is essential to support a legal case for compensation. It is important to note that this procedure cannot determine how much asbestos an individual may have been exposed to or whether lung cancer will develop in the future.

Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer Risk Factors

Several factors can help to determine how asbestos exposure affects an individual, including:

  • Dose (how much asbestos an individual was exposed to)
  • Duration (how long an individual was exposed)
  • Size, shape, and chemical makeup of the asbestos fibers
  • Source of the exposure
  • Individual risk factors, such as smoking and pre-existing lung disease
  • Genetic factors

Lung Cancer Vs. Mesothelioma

Asbestos-related lung cancer and Mesothelioma are two different types of cancer, but both are caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos lung cancer attacks the lung tissue itself. It can come in the form of small-cell lung cancer, non-small-cell lung cancer, oat-cell lung cancer, and other cell types. Mesothelioma attacks the lining of the lungs (the pleura), the lining of the abdomen (the peritoneum), or the lining of the heart (pericardium). Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Lung cancer can be caused by asbestos alone or in conjunction with tobacco exposure.

Symptoms and treatment for both asbestos-related diseases may be similar. However, it is important to have a doctor who specializes in asbestos cancers to determine your best treatment options.

Asbestos Lung Cancer Settlements

To this day, men and women are still discovering they were exposed to asbestos and are, consequently, victims of lung cancer and other asbestos-related illnesses. If you think you may have been exposed to asbestos, keep an eye on your health and symptoms. If you develop symptoms and receive a diagnosis, in order to have a case for a claim, you will need to provide proof that an asbestos company is responsible for your diagnosis.

As soon as you receive a diagnosis that confirms your asbestos exposure and you have proof that an asbestos company is responsible, you will want to secure an asbestos lawyer to help you get the financial compensation that could cover your medical bills, long-term care, etc. There are statutes of limitations set on these types of claims, which means you will need to file as soon as possible to ensure you receive compensation. Our lawyers at Serling & Abramson, PC can help you compile all evidence and paperwork you need and will fight to get you the compensation you deserve for what you've endured.

Asbestos Lung Cancer FAQs

Will I get lung cancer since I was exposed to asbestos?

Not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos will get lung cancer. However, your risk of getting asbestos-related lung cancer increases with the length of the exposure. It is always recommended to get a lung cancer screening as a preventative pressure.

I Was a Smoker for Many Years and Have Recently Been Diagnosed with Lung Cancer. Do I Have a Case?

Many people think that if they develop lung cancer and have a long-term history of smoking that they are not eligible for compensation for their asbestos exposure. This is not true. As a matter of fact, the combination of asbestos exposure and cigarette smoking gives rise to a greater risk for the development of lung cancer.  Medical experts have testified that smoking without asbestos exposure gives rise to ten times the risk factor to develop lung cancer as compared to someone who has never smoked. Asbestos exposure gives rise to five times the risk to develop lung cancer for someone who has never been exposed to asbestos. However, the risk for someone who was a heavy smoker and also exposed to asbestos can raise the risk to as much as 90 times for the development of lung cancer. 

We have represented many tradesmen who have successfully filed lawsuits for their lung cancer who both smoked and were exposed to asbestos.

How often should I get screened for lung cancer?

Screenings are recommended annually for people 55+ that are current or former smokers. Those exposed to asbestos and those with medical lung conditions are also suggested to get annual or bi-annual screenings if indicated by your doctor. If you are experiencing any persistent lung cancer symptoms, screening is also highly recommended.

Can I take steps to prevent lung cancer?

Absolutely! The best step you can take to prevent lung cancer is to avoid smoking and secondhand smoke. Avoiding pollutants and chemical carcinogens is another crucial step. And as always, try to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.

How fast does lung cancer spread?

The speed at which your lung cancer spreads depends on the type. Small cell lung cancer spreads much more rapidly than non-small cell lung cancer on average. Large cell carcinoma, a non-small cell lung cancer subtype, also tends to spread much more quickly than the other non-small cell subtypes.

Michigan Asbestos Lung Cancer Attorneys

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer and think you may have been exposed to asbestos, fill out the contact form below to speak with Michigan’s First and Finest asbestos attorneys.

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