Types of Cancer Caused by Asbestos
Asbestos has been linked to various types of cancer, but some are more clearly linked than others.
The most clearly linked forms of asbestos-related cancer are:
- Larynx (voice box) cancer
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Cancers found in other abdominal organs
Studies have shown that because it is the most widely used, chrysotile asbestos accounts for the majority of cases of mesothelioma and asbestos-related cancers.
In all cases of asbestos-related cancer, the greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the individual’s risk of cancer.
Mesothelioma is different and is only known to be caused by asbestos exposure. Once asbestos has triggered mesothelioma, it may take years for symptoms to develop.
Mesothelium membranes aren’t only found protecting the lungs, but also other organs like the heart, stomach, and testicles. It’s rare, but these internal organs can be affected by asbestos exposure and become different types of mesothelioma.
There are four main types of mesothelioma:
- Pleural Mesothelioma: Pleural refers to the lungs and respiratory system. The lungs are relatively large organs with a significant mesothelium membrane area. They’re also the first stop for asbestos fibers entering the body. Approximately 80% of asbestos cancer cases are pleural mesothelioma.
- Peritoneal Mesothelioma: This type of cancer attacks the abdominal area and neighboring organs. The stomach, liver, kidneys, and spleen are targets for peritoneal mesothelioma. It accounts for roughly 20% of asbestos-caused cancers.
- Pericardial Mesothelioma: The heart lining is called the pericardium, and it’s also a mesothelium-type membrane. Often misdiagnosed as another cardiac ailment, pericardial cancer is quite rare. It makes up about 1% of all cases of mesothelioma.
- Testicular Mesothelioma: This is a very rare type of mesothelioma that develops in the lining of the testicles (tunica vaginalis). There are less than 1,000 confirmed testicular mesothelioma cases recorded in medical literature. Scientists know little about how asbestos fibers reach the testicle lining.
Regardless of type, mesothelioma often has a poor outlook for recovery and life expectancy. However, the companies that exposed millions of Americans to asbestos and caused them to develop this terrible disease were forced to set aside asbestos trust funds to compensate their victims.
Victims of mesothelioma are encouraged to seek asbestos trust fund compensation to hold these companies accountable.
Lung cancer due to asbestos exposure is caused by inhalation or ingestion of the fibrous asbestos particles.
Inhalation can occur from asbestos mining, the manufacturing of asbestos-containing products, or disturbing/breaking down asbestos-containing products.
From there, the asbestos fibers can stick to the lining of the throat and then pass to the lungs. Once in the lungs, these fibers cause irritation that can develop into asbestos lung cancer over time.
Did You Know?
20% of tumors located in the lungs are linked to asbestos exposure.
Asbestos exposure can lead to lung cancer in a two-part process.
In the first part of the process, asbestos fibers embed themselves in the soft inner tissues of the lungs. The asbestos fibers then travel over the soft tissue and make their way into the lung lining.
Once these fibers have been inhaled and taken into the lungs, there is no way for them to be forced out — so they start to create small incisions.
After this process has been completed, the body’s natural reaction is to begin the healing process by trying to cover these small incisions with scar tissue. This can create small or large build-ups over time (tumors).
In some instances, the tumors will become malignant, meaning they have the ability to spread. This process can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years, depending on the individual.
Smoking tobacco products can greatly increase a person’s risk of developing asbestos-related cancer. Patients who smoke were more likely (by a rate of up to 50 times) to contract cancer related to asbestos exposure than non-smokers.
In 2016, a former cement panel cutter passed away from kidney cancer caused by asbestos, with no other evidence of asbestos in other organs.
Researchers are still unsure how asbestos fibers may end up in the kidneys. One conclusion is that when asbestos fibers are ingested, they can flow through the digestive tract and settle in the kidneys.
Once in the kidneys, the fibers may cause scar tissue to form, which could eventually lead to the scar tissue becoming tumorous and then metastasizing (spreading).
When working in an industry that relied on asbestos-containing products, the possibility of ingesting or inhaling asbestos fibers is drastically increased — and so is the possibility of developing asbestos-related cancer.
In addition to lung cancer and mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos has also been linked to other types of cancer.
Asbestos may cause cancer in the:
Laryngeal cancer is a cancer that forms in the larynx (voice box) and is linked to the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers.
Another form of cancer that is directly linked to asbestos exposure is ovarian cancer. Asbestos fibers may reach the ovaries by migrating across the diaphragm in the peritoneal cavity.
Non-Cancerous Asbestos Diseases
Non-cancerous (benign) diseases may also result from asbestos exposure. Although they are non-cancerous, benign asbestos diseases are still hazardous to an individual’s health and, in some cases, can lead to and be early signs of cancer.
Examples of non-cancerous asbestos diseases are:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Diffuse pleural thickening
- Pericardial effusion
- Peritoneal effusion
- Pleural plaques
- Pleural effusion
Asbestosis involves the scarring of the lung tissue due to asbestos fibers. This scarring causes discomfort, pain, and difficulty in breathing.
Similar to other asbestos-related diseases, asbestosis causes the body to try to heal the scars in the lining of the lungs. Though this condition is not fatal, it can lead to more serious health effects such as cardiac or respiratory dysfunction and potentially failure, especially over time.
Pleural plaques are another type of non-cancerous disease associated with exposure to asbestos. These are hardened (calcified) build-ups of collagen, which is a protein naturally produced within the body.
Though not overly deadly on its own, pleural plaques can lead to more aggressive and deadly forms of diseases.
Pleural effusion is another non-cancerous disease caused by asbestos exposure. This disease is a build-up of liquid between layers of lung tissue and the outer layer of the lungs.
Symptoms of these liquid build-ups are difficulty breathing, chest pain, and dry cough, but they can be alleviated by having a doctor drain the effusions from the lungs.