Lung Cancer and Asbestos Exposure
Tobacco smoke and other irritants trigger lung cancer tumors. However, asbestos exposure is responsible for some lung cancer cases. However, every documented case of pleural mesothelioma starts with inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers.
Tobacco smoke does not directly cause mesothelioma, but smokers who have prolonged asbestos exposure are 50 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than non-smokers.
Asbestos is a generic name for silicate minerals that have fibrous structures. Asbestos fibers have unique physical properties than once appeared perfect for adding to other materials.
Asbestos fibers were:
- Able to blend with other substances
- Chemically inert
Additionally, asbestos was widely available and highly economical. For those reasons, the toxic mineral appeared in over 3,000 different asbestos products from the 1920s to the 1980s, when its deadly carcinogenic (cancer-causing) traits were finally made public.
However, before then, countless Americans working with asbestos developed lung cancer and other diseases due to occupational asbestos exposure.
Not all raw asbestos forms are the same.
There are two distinct classifications:
- Serpentine asbestos: This type has long, soft fibers. Chrysotile is the only asbestos in this class and accounts for 90% of all asbestos consumed in America.
- Amphibole asbestos: There are five subtypes of amphibole fibers. They are shorter, harder, and much more dangerous to human lungs and mesothelium tissue.
When asbestos fibers enter the lungs, they do two things. First, they lodge in the lung’s soft inner tissue. Second, they traverse the soft tissue and travel through to the lung lining. Asbestos fibers stick to lung tissue and lining like flypaper. They can’t be exhaled and don’t decompose like organic pollutants.
Asbestos irritants remain in the lungs and trigger a natural immune system response to cover the fibers with scar tissue. That can be small, localized scars in the alveoli or large, extensive coverings in the mesothelium.
There is a long latency or build-up period for lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma tumors to develop. That ranges anywhere from 10 to 50 years depending on the individual circumstances. But once these tumors turn malignant, they are aggressive and come on fast, often contributing to the countless deaths from asbestos exposure.