Lung Cancer and Asbestos

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Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is used as an insulator and fire retardant. The mineral forms in fibers that can break off and become airborne. In the early and mid-1900s, people living near asbestos mines could inhale airborne fibers, and asbestos dust. People working in asbestos related industries like ship building, boilermakers, brake mechanics, and building contractors inhaled the fibers at work. Research established the dangers of asbestos by the 1920s, but few regulations were put into place until the mid 1970s. After the government-implemented regulations, enforcement was not consistent. Today asbestos is still used in many industries and in other countries. People who are careless about wearing respirators, or who are unaware of the presence of asbestos, can still get work-related asbestos exposure. When the asbestos enters the body it moves into the lungs. Once in the lungs, asbestos is harder for the body to remove than many other contaminants. Over time, the irritation of the lungs causes scarring that can be a precursor to cancerous growth, potentially causing one of the two most common forms of asbestos cancer: either lung cancer, or mesothelioma.

Lung Cancer is the abnormal division of cells within the body. As the cells divide, they form masses, or tumors, in the affected area. The two most common types of lung cancer are small cell cancers, and non-small cell cancers. Mixed cell cancers occur much less regularly. Cigarette smoking causes most small cell cancers. When a doctor diagnoses a patient with lung cancer, it means the person has tumors in one or both lungs, most frequently near the trachea. The presence of the tumors makes it difficult for the lungs to function properly.

When abnormal cells first appear in the lungs, there may be no symptoms at all. By the time the symptoms begin to show up, the cancer has had time to develop and, if not caught quickly, can potentially spread to other parts of the body.

Symptoms of lung cancer include a cough that won’t go away, or changes in a persistent cough, being out of breath, pain when coughing or breathing, coughing up phlegm that has blood in it, and unexplained loss of weight. There are other, less common symptoms as well, but things other than cancer can cause many of these symptoms, regardless of how common they may be. Identification of risk factors, and elimination of other, easier-to-spot illnesses, can help guide a doctor in determining whether to suspect cancer. Regardless, successful treatment of any medical condition is more likely with early detection. Therefore a person with any of these symptoms should consult a doctor.

Asbestos-Cancer-CausesTo determine whether a person’s symptoms are caused by cancer or something else, such as pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of asbestos cancer, a doctor may use CT scans, X-rays or MRIs to get a better look at the lungs. The doctor may also use a microscope to examine any phlegm the person may cough up to determine whether it contains abnormal cells. Since cancer is often asymptomatic in early stages, it is frequently discovered when the doctor is actually examining the patient in relation to a different and unrelated medical issue.

Asbestos Cancer

Mesothelioma-Lung-CancerThe role of asbestos in lung cancer has proven difficult to quantify. Lung cancer caused by other factors like smoking, and lung cancer caused by asbestos, look the same under the microscope. Asbestos is the only known cause of malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis, both of which also affect the lungs, but which are distinguishable from asbestos-related lung cancer. Lung cancer has many potential causes; identifying asbestos as the cause in any given case requires elimination of many potential contributing factors. One distinguishing characteristic seems to be a pattern of asbestos-related lung cancer occurring at a younger age than other types of lung cancer. Furthermore, studies in Great Britain have shown that in populations that have known asbestos exposure, the lung cancer rate equals or exceeds the asbestosis and mesothelioma rates. The studies indicate that for every one mesothelioma death, two people died from asbestos-related lung cancer. Researchers know that the chance of getting lung cancer from asbestos increases with the duration and intensity of exposure. Smoking increases the lung cancer risk still further. For those people who have been exposed to asbestos but who have not yet developed lung cancer, quitting smoking reduces the risk.

After a doctor has made the lung cancer diagnosis, treatment is the same regardless of what caused the lung cancer. Treatment depends on numerous factors, including the location of the tumor, the advancement of the cancer, and the patient’s overall health. In some cases surgery can remove all the cancerous tissue, curing the disease. Unfortunately, doctors can’t perform surgery on all tumors, and it doesn’t help if the cancer has spread through the body. Radiation therapy uses very strong X-rays to attack a specific area where cancer cells have massed. It may be used to kill cancer cells in some locations, and can help treat symptons from lung cancer. Chemotherapy involves targeting the cancer with drugs that prevent the cancer from multiplying. Frequently, radiation and chemotherapy are used together to form a more powerful treatment than either could provide individually.

Experimental Mesothelioma Treatments

Mesothelioma-VictimsTreatment options continue to advance as doctors and researchers conduct more clinical trials. In March 2007 results from a new clinical trial showed that while surgery is an effective option for cancer in early stages, it does not improve survival rates more than combined chemotherapy and radiation treatment for people with advanced (stage III) cancer that had spread into the lymphatic system. Other clinical trial results published in 2007 include findings that one drug seems to have more favorable results in chemotherapy trials than another similar drug, and that using less intensive radiation treatment for a longer period of time had better results than short term high intensity radiation. In addition to these trials where results have already been published, more than 500 clinical trials involving lung cancer still are accepting new patients.