Does Asbestos Cause Lung Cancer?

Does Asbestos Cause Lung Cancer?

Let’s get right to the point and answer the question “Does asbestos cause lung cancer?”. Yes, there is a link between asbestos and cancer. Specifically, lung cancer. 

But there’s more to the story. In this article, we will talk about what asbestos is, it’s link to lung cancer and more.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of minerals. They naturally occur as bundles of fibers. Unfortunately, there is asbestos all over the world. Often you can find it in soil and rocks. Usually, asbestos is made of silicon and oxygen. However, it can also contain other elements.

Asbestos has two main types: Chrysotile and Amphibole. 

Chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) is very common. You can find it in many industrial applications. These particles are tiny and you’ll need a microscope to see them.

The second type, amphibole asbestos, has different classifications such as amosite or brown asbestos, crocidolite or blue asbestos, anthophyllite, actinolite, and tremolite. 

Does Asbestos Cause Lung Cancer?

Both of these asbestos types have been linked with cancer. Fortunately, asbestos-related cancer became well-known and recognized as a cancer-causing agent during the second half of the 20th century. 

Because of this, certain measures are now in place to reduce our exposure. One was banning the use of asbestos in construction materials. Also using and developing alternative insulating materials has cut down on asbestos use and exposure as well.

Exposure To Asbestos

Exposure to asbestos can be in different ways. This includes inhaling and swallowing asbestos.

The most common one is inhaling. People can inhale asbestos fibers in the air during the mining and processing of asbestos. People can also inhale it when making asbestos products, or during the installation of asbestos insulation.

Another common way people inhale asbestos is when older buildings are getting renovated, demolished, or when asbestos-contain materials begin to break down. 

On the other hand, people may swallow asbestos fibers when they consume contaminated food or liquid. Or, when people cough up asbestos they have inhaled and then swallow their saliva. 

The Link Between Asbestos and Lung Cancer

Researchers have plenty of studies to figure out the link between cancer and asbestos. There is research out there on the effects of asbestos on both lab animals and people.

Studies in people look at the cancer rates in a wide variety of people. Researches then compare the cancer rate between those who are exposed to asbestos to those who aren’t. 

On the other hand, lab studies are where researchers expose animals to asbestos in very large doses, and see if it causes tumors and other health problems. 

The result from the studies are compared together to figure out if asbestos causes cancer. The evidence from both studies shows that asbestos can increase the risks of some types of cancers for both people and lab animals. 

What usually happens is that when the asbestos fibers are inhaled, it can stick to the mucus in the throat, the windpipe or the bronchi. It might be cleared by being coughed up or swallowed. However, some fibers do reach the ends of the small airways in the lungs.

There are also instances where some fibers penetrate into the outer lining of the lung and chest wall. When this happens, the fibers can irritate the cells in the lungs. It can also irritate the chest wall. This will eventually be the cause of mesothelioma, or lung cancer.

More Information

This article is part of our series on Lung Cancer Treatments, Signs, Causes and Prevention.

Please check out the next topic in this series: Can Tarceva cure lung cancer?

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