Malignant Asbestos-Related Diseases
The link between asbestos exposure and cancer risk is significant. Malignant (cancerous) diseases caused by asbestos exposure have a limited prognosis for long-term survival.
The best hope for dealing with cancer is catching it early and taking immediate action to remove or destroy the tumors. Unfortunately, malignant asbestos diseases take such a long time for the symptoms to present that they usually have spread throughout the body, making treatments difficult.
Exactly how asbestos causes cancer is a phenomenon not fully understood by medical science. There is overwhelming proof they do, though.
Asbestos particles are mineral-based. They can’t be broken down by the immune system as organic and biological impurities can be.
Asbestos scarring in a lung or other organ tissue turns cancerous because healthy cells become damaged and their DNA changes. These cells rapidly multiply rather than die and replace themselves. In the process, these rogue cells damage other organs and shut them down, killing the host.
Malignant tumor cells spread or metastasize to other areas. Often, they invade a neighboring organ or travel through the lymphatic system to distant parts of the body, including other major organs like the brain.
Lung cancer is a common and highly deadly asbestos disease. While other carcinogens like tobacco smoke, radon, and heavy metals are the most likely causes of lung cancer, asbestos exposure is responsible for an estimated 20% of all cases.
Lung cancer tumors form in the inner pleural tissue. Left unchecked, this cancer significantly impairs lung function and can be fatal.
Treatment for this asbestos disease includes a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Malignant mesothelioma does not just affect one part of the body. It can appear in several different areas and spread widely via the lymph nodes. This aggressive cancer is extremely deadly.
There are four types of mesothelioma:
- Pleural mesothelioma: This is the most common type of mesothelioma, developing in the lining of the lungs (the pleura). It can cause pain in the chest, ribs, shoulders, and upper back. Other symptoms include coughing up blood, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and weight loss.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma: This type of mesothelioma forms in the lining of the abdominal cavity (the peritoneum). Common symptoms include abdominal pain, constipation, swelling due to fluid buildup, nausea, blood in stool (feces), and vomiting. Less common symptoms include pain in the upper back and ribs.
- Pericardial mesothelioma: With this type of mesothelioma, tumors first develop in the lining of the heart (the pericardium). It can cause an irregular heartbeat or heart murmurs, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
- Testicular mesothelioma: This rare form of mesothelioma starts in the tunica vaginalis (testicle lining). It often causes swelling or masses of tissues to form around the testicles, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Because mesothelioma can develop in different parts of the body — and the symptoms can mimic more common, less deadly illnesses — it’s important for patients to tell their doctor about any exposure to asbestos in the past. This can help doctors make a proper diagnosis.
Ovarian cancer accounts for only 3% of female cancer cases, but it’s the most deadly. Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other form of women’s reproductive cancers.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) confirms asbestos exposure is a leading cause of this cancer.
This cancer is rare but often attributed to asbestos exposure. Inhaled asbestos fibers become trapped in the larynx (voice box). Like in other organs, scar tissue forms and eventually turns into a tumor. Surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation is the typical course of treatment for this asbestos disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that asbestos exposure may increase the risk of other types of cancers.
These cancers include:
- Colorectal cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Pharyngeal (throat) cancer
- Stomach cancer
More information is needed to definitively link these cancers to asbestos exposure, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).