The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the EPA have all classified Asbestos as a known human carcinogen; meaning that it’s a substance that causes cancer.
Numerous studies have revealed that prolonged exposure to asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma (a rare and aggressive form of cancer). Various studies have also found that exposure to asbestos also causes gastrointestinal, colorectal, and increased risk of cancers of the oesophagus, throat, kidney, and gallbladder.
“Asbestos exposure has been linked to the development of serious respiratory diseases and cancers, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other conditions.”
- Read: The Differences Between Asbestosis and Mesothelioma
- Read also: Why Don’t Doctors Use the Term “Cured” with Mesothelioma?
How Asbestos Leads to Cancer?
1. Asbestos and Mesothelioma
Although rare, mesothelioma is the most common form of cancer associated with prolonged asbestos exposure.
Exposure mainly occurs as a result of inhaling asbestos fibers released into the air. Asbestos fibers become airborne when disturbed especially during mining and processing of the mineral as well as building demolitions or renovations.
Exposure also occurs when the fibers are swallowed/ingested. This may happen when someone consumes asbestos-contaminated foods or liquids. It may also occur when a person coughs up the inhaled asbestos and then swallow their saliva.
When these fibers are inhaled or ingested, they become lodged in the mesothelium lining of the lungs, abdomen, heart, and in rare cases, testicles.
When the fibers become embedded in the lining of the lungs (pleura), it’s known as Pleural Mesothelioma. Peritoneal Mesothelioma develops when the fibers become lodged in the lining of the abdomen. Pericardial Mesothelioma develops in the lining of the heart and Testicular Mesothelioma (extremely rare) develops in the linings of the testes.
Mesothelioma pretty much develops like other cancers. However, the only difference is that a carcinogen, asbestos, is involved.
When the microscopic fibers of asbestos lodge themselves into the linings of these organs, the body identifies them as foreign particles and therefore tries to eliminate them. However, due to their microscopic nature, the body is unable to expel them.
Over time, the DNA in the healthy cells of the mesothelium lining is altered by these fibers. The cells then become cancerous and tumors begin to grow. The fibers also accumulate after a certain period of time, causing scarring and inflammation which causes breathing problems, severe chest pain, and leads to various serious complications.
“Asbestos exposure occurs when someone inhales or swallows asbestos fibers.”
Mesothelioma typically takes a long time to develop and show symptoms. Most patients are diagnosed 30 or more years after the first exposure.
2. Asbestos and Lung Cancer
Prolonged exposure to asbestos has also been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer according to various studies conducted on asbestos-exposed workers.
Studies indicate that asbestos-related lung cancer accounts for approximately 4 percent of all lung cancers.
This cancer is not similar to mesothelioma, although it develops the same way.
When the asbestos fibers become lodged in the lungs, they lead to a genetic mutation of the healthy cells in the actual lung tissue, leading to tumor growth.
Just like in mesothelioma, the fibers also cause scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue, which causes difficulty breathing and many other problems.
Treatment options for both mesothelioma and lung cancer are quite similar. A patient may undergo surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In the case of lung cancer, pneumonectomy (entire lung removal) may be performed.
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