In the days of playing with liquid mercury and drinking from lead-piped water lines, we knew little about how exposure to certain things could lead to future health issues. Asbestos is one such material. As a result of extensive studies, asbestos exposure has been linked to the development of several lung cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer. Let’s discuss what non-small cell lung cancer is and how asbestos is related to its development.
What is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer has two main categories based on how the cancer cells appear under the microscope. The first type is known as small cell lung cancer, which is the least common of the two, accounting for about 15% of the diagnoses. It tends to grow rapidly and spread aggressively to lymph nodes or nearby organs. In contrast, the second type, known as non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), is the most commonly diagnosed lung cancer. It comprises 80-85% of all lung cancer cases and can affect both smokers and non-smokers. It tends to grow and spread less aggressively than its counterpart.
Subtypes of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
There are three subtypes of NSCLC which are diagnosed based on cell growth behavior and location of the malignancy:
- Adenocarcinoma: The most common subtype. It is slow-growing and typically forms in the outer, mucus-secreting tissues of the lungs. This is the most common lung cancer in non-smokers as well.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This subtype develops in one of the bronchi, or the lungs’ airways. It is defined by its flat cancer cells that are even slower-growing than adenocarcinoma cells.
- Large cell carcinoma: While the rarest, this subtype is the most dangerous. It grows and spreads rapidly, like small cell lung cancer, but is made up of much larger cells.
Asbestos and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
While smoking is the leading cause of NSCLC, asbestos exposure is a close runner-up.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral defined by its long, fibrous crystals and thermal ability. Each fiber is composed of microscopic fibrils that were easily made airborne through agitation and abrasion—which means they were just as easily inhaled. However, asbestos was once the most commonly used material for insulation in construction due to its thermal properties, whether it be housing, schools, hospitals, or restaurants. As a result, countless people were exposed to the harmful effects of asbestos.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they have a strong chance of lodging into the lining of the lungs. This causes an irritating micro-wound that leads to tissue scarring. This damage affects the way the cells around the damaged tissues are programmed. Eventually, the lung tissues will begin creating malignancies, or abnormal cell growths, that develop into what we know as non-small cell lung cancer.
Of those exposed to asbestos, people who also smoked tobacco products were ten times more likely to develop NSCLC than the others.
Asbestos-Related Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Symptoms
Below are the most common symptoms of asbestos-related non-small cell cancer:
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing or hoarseness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest tightness
- Chest pain, especially when breathing deeply
- Facial or neck swelling
- Blood when coughing or expectorating
- Weakness or lightheadedness
Victims of Asbestos Exposure
If you suspect that you or a loved one may have developed non-small cell lung cancer as a result of asbestos exposure and are seeking legal counsel, complete your free case evaluation with us today. Visit our resources to learn more about asbestos-related lung cancer.