Asbestos Cancers

Asbestos exposure can cause several types of cancer, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and ovarian cancer. Though asbestos cancers can be life-threatening, medical care can help patients in many cases. Learn more about the link between asbestos and cancer, as well as how to get help, below.

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Written and Fact-Checked by: Lung Cancer Group

How Does Asbestos Cause Cancer?

An X-ray of a patient's lungsAccording to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), asbestos is a carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).

If asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, asbestos dust and fibers could be released into the air. Once in the air, people are at an increased risk of inhaling the asbestos fibers, which can remain in the body forever and cause irritation.

After 10-50 years of damage from asbestos fibers, cancer tumors can form.

Cancers linked to asbestos include:

  • Lung cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Gastrointestinal cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Throat cancer

If you have asbestos-related lung cancer or another type of cancer, our team may be able to help. Get a free case review to learn if you qualify for financial aid and other helpful resources.

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Types of Cancer Caused by Asbestos Exposure

Someone might develop different types of cancer depending on where asbestos fibers get stuck in the body. Learn about which cancers can be caused by asbestos exposure below.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the most prevalent cancer caused by asbestos, according to the medical journal Epidemiology. People might develop lung cancer if asbestos fibers are inhaled and become stuck in the lung tissue.

“In general, the greater the exposure to asbestos, the higher the risk of lung cancer.”

— American Cancer Society

The risk is even greater if someone was a regular smoker, as smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of lung cancer. Smoke and asbestos significantly worsen the damage done to the lungs.

Smokers who were exposed to asbestos are over 50 times more likely to develop lung cancer compared to nonsmokers who have not been exposed to asbestos, according to the American Lung Association (ALA).


Malignant mesothelioma is not the same thing as lung cancer. This cancer forms when asbestos fibers get stuck in the body’s internal lining (mesothelium). Mesothelioma is very notable as it’s only caused by asbestos exposure.

There are four mesothelioma types, depending on the part of the mesothelium it affects.

Types of mesothelioma include:

  • Pleural mesothelioma, which affects the pleura, the lining of the lung. This is the most common type of mesothelioma.
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the peritoneum, the lining of the abdomen. It’s the second-most common type and responds well to treatment.
  • Pericardial mesothelioma, which starts in the pericardium, the lining of the heart. It is very rare and very hard to treat.
  • Testicular mesothelioma, which begins in the tunica vaginalis, the sac protecting the testicles. It is the rarest form of mesothelioma, but it’s easier to treat than most other types.

Mesothelioma is very dangerous and can be fatal in months without medical care. Thankfully, with treatment, patients can possibly live longer. Long-term survival may be possible in certain cases too.

Get help after a lung cancer or mesothelioma diagnosis: Call (877) 446-5767 now.

Ovarian Cancer

Women may be at risk of asbestos-related ovarian cancer. This is particularly true if they used talcum powder as a feminine hygiene product.

Did You Know?

Asbestos and talc are naturally occurring minerals, and they may be found near each other in rock deposits. Talc must be mined from the ground in order to turn it into talcum powder. However, mining talc could disturb nearby asbestos and cause contamination.

If asbestos fibers reach the ovaries, they can cause ovarian cancer. Horrifically, recent lawsuits claim that Johnson & Johnson® sold talcum powder despite repeatedly finding asbestos fibers in samples between 1957 and the early 2000s.

Further, a 2019 study from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also found asbestos fibers in J&J talcum powder.

Women who used this talcum power are now blaming the company for developing ovarian cancer. J&J has since stopped selling talcum powder but continues to deny the allegations.

Other Asbestos-Related Cancers

Besides the cancers listed above, asbestos exposure is also linked to several other types of cancer.

Other asbestos cancers include:

  • Colorectal cancer: This cancer affects the colon or rectum. A 2019 study from the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine found that workers exposed to asbestos had a very high risk of this cancer.
  • Gastrointestinal cancer: This includes cancers of the stomach and other intestines.
  • Throat cancers: Asbestos can lead to esophageal, pharyngeal, and laryngeal cancer. For example, a man was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx after working around asbestos for nearly 40 years in the construction business.

Help is available if you or a loved one has asbestos-caused cancers. Get assistance now with a free case review.

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Symptoms of Asbestos Cancers

A man sits in a hospital and wears a respirator around his face.Symptoms of asbestos-related cancers vary depending on the condition. Unfortunately, one thing is common for many of these symptoms: They might not appear until the cancer has spread through the body.

Because of this, it’s important to see a doctor if you were exposed to asbestos and aren’t feeling well. Doing so may help catch an asbestos-caused cancer as early as possible.

Lung Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of asbestos lung cancer are the same as lung cancer cases caused by other factors like smoking.

Common lung cancer symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing that doesn’t go away or gets worse
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss

Mesothelioma Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma vary depending on the location of the cancer. Pleural mesothelioma often shares symptoms with lung cancer and other lung diseases.

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Painful coughing
  • Pleural effusion (fluid buildup in lung lining)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unintended weight loss

Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are typically related to the abdomen and digestion.

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Unintended weight loss

Pericardial mesothelioma can cause symptoms like chest pain and difficulty breathing, while testicular mesothelioma may cause pain and swelling.

Symptoms of Other Cancers Caused by Asbestos

Other cancers caused by asbestos have their own unique symptoms.

Possible symptoms of asbestos-caused cancers include:

  • Colorectal cancer: Abdominal discomfort, change in bowel habits, diarrhea, and bright red or dark blood in the stool
  • Ovarian cancer: Abdominal or back pain, bloating, feeling full too quickly, vaginal bleeding or abnormal discharge
  • Gastrointestinal cancer: Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), feeling bloated, feeling sick, heartburn, and persistent indigestion
  • Throat cancer: Changes in hearing, facial pain, nasal congestion (blocked nose), persistent headaches, and ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

Who Is At Risk of Asbestos Cancers?

Anyone exposed to asbestos could develop cancer later in life. In particular, those who worked with or around asbestos for long spans of time at their jobs are at a very high risk.

Did You Know?

Occupational exposure to asbestos was common in the construction and shipyard industries. These industries often used asbestos cement slabs, insulation, roofing materials, textiles, and friction products.

Besides these workers, their loved ones could also be at risk due to secondhand exposure. Asbestos fibers can stick to skin and clothing if disturbed, so workers may have unknowingly brought them into their homes and put their loved ones at risk.

For example, Greg worked as an electrician for 40 years and often came home covered in asbestos dust. His daughter Julie would hug him and also play in the laundry room where his work clothes would be washed.

Tragically, Greg was diagnosed with asbestos lung cancer later in life. A year after he passed away from it, Julie was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

We can help if you or a loved one developed an asbestos cancer. Get a free case review now to find out your eligibility.

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How Doctors Diagnose Asbestos Cancers

Doctors use a variety of methods to determine whether you have an asbestos cancer.

These include:

  • Imaging scans: Imaging scans like X-rays and CT scans take pictures of your body. Doctors can use these pictures to look for signs of cancer.
  • Blood tests: These tests use blood samples to look for cancer cells’ DNA. Cancer cells have unique DNA mutations that make them grow rapidly out of control.
  • Biomarkers: Biomarker tests use samples of tissues or blood to look for certain proteins, genes, or other molecules that may be signs of cancer.
  • Biopsies: Biopsies remove tiny samples of fluid or tissue from your body. Your care team will send the samples to a pathologist, who will then test them for cancer markers. Biopsies are the only way to know for sure if you have cancer or not.

Treatment Options for Asbestos Cancers

Asbestos cancers are life-threatening. However, you can get treatments to live longer or ease painful symptoms. Learn about treatments for asbestos-caused cancers below.

Lung Cancer Treatments

An older male patient looks up at a nurseTreatments for lung cancer vary slightly depending on the lung cancer type.

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a mix of these treatments.
  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) patients are usually treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Your care team can determine which lung cancer treatments will work best for you following a diagnosis.

Mesothelioma Treatments

Doctors can use a wide range of treatments for mesothelioma. Which mesothelioma treatments will be used in your case depends on the type of this cancer you have, how far it has spread, your overall health, and other factors.

Common mesothelioma treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy: These are drugs that kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be used before surgery to shrink tumors so they’re easier to remove, or after surgery to lower the chances of mesothelioma returning.
  • Clinical trials: These are studies of new ways to treat mesothelioma. Mesothelioma patients may choose a clinical trial to try new treatments. Talk to your doctor to see which clinical trials are a good fit.
  • Immunotherapy drugs: These strengthen your immune system’s ability to fight cancer.
  • Radiation therapy: This uses high-energy beams from protons and X-rays to kill cancer. Doctors may use it after surgery to kill remaining mesothelioma cells, or to reduce symptoms of advanced mesothelioma if surgery isn’t an option.
  • Surgery: Doctors can use various surgeries to remove mesothelioma tumors. They’re typically recommended for those diagnosed before the cancer spreads.

Mesothelioma treatments can be very expensive, costing $500,000 or more. However, you may qualify for financial aid to cover these treatment costs. Contact us to learn more.

Treatments for Other Asbestos Cancers

Doctors often use a mix of surgery, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and chemotherapy to treat other asbestos cancers.

Which treatments will be used in your case will depend on which cancer you’re diagnosed with, how far it has spread through your body, your general health, and additional factors.

Prognosis for Asbestos Cancers

Each asbestos-caused cancer has its own prognosis, or expected patient outlook after a diagnosis.

Here are the prognoses of common asbestos-related cancers:

  • Lung cancer: Lung cancer prognosis is decent if the patient is diagnosed early on. According to the ALA, the 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is 56% when the disease is localized (only in the lungs). Lung cancer that has spread to distant organs only has a 5-year survival rate of 5%.
  • Mesothelioma: The average mesothelioma prognosis is generally poor. According to Penn Medicine, patients typically live from 4 to 18 months after a diagnosis. The 5-year survival rate for mesothelioma is only 10%.
  • Colorectal cancer: Colorectal cancer patients have better prognoses than mesothelioma and lung cancer patients. The 5-year survival rate is 91% for localized colorectal cancer, but just 13% if the cancer has spread through the body.
  • Ovarian cancer: Ovarian cancer survival rates range between 49% to 93% depending on the subtype.
  • Stomach cancer: The prognosis for stomach cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. According to Cleveland Clinic, the 5-year survival rate for stomach cancer is 70% for localized cancer and 6% for advanced cancer.
  • Throat cancer: Throat cancers have 5-year survival rates ranging from 37% to 77%, depending on the subtype.

Non-Cancerous Asbestos-Related Diseases

Asbestos exposure can also cause non-cancerous conditions like asbestosis, pleural effusions, and pleural plaques. You may suffer from these health problems alongside asbestos cancers. Learn about these health problems below.


Asbestos is a chronic (long-term) disease that occurs as asbestos fibers scar healthy lung tissue. This causes the lungs to stiffen and makes breathing difficult.

There’s no way to cure someone of asbestosis, but treatments like supplemental oxygen can help improve lung function. Patients may qualify for a lung transplant in rare cases.

Asbestosis patients can also go on to develop asbestos cancers, like lung cancer or mesothelioma, due to their exposure.

Pleural Effusions

A pleural effusion is an abnormal buildup of fluid within the lung ling. Pleural effusions cause pain and difficulty breathing. Doctors can drain the effusion to help ease these symptoms.

Pleural effusions are often a sign of either asbestos lung cancer or pleural mesothelioma.

Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques are noncancerous areas of thickened tissue that form in the pleura. They are the result of the body trying to break down asbestos fibers. However, pleural plaques are harmless and won’t require any treatments.

Get Help After an Asbestos Cancer Diagnosis

Receiving an asbestos cancer diagnosis can be traumatic and stressful, but we at Lung Cancer Group are here to help.

If you have an asbestos cancer like lung cancer or mesothelioma, we can help you pursue financial compensation from makers of asbestos-containing products. The money we can secure on your behalf can cover your medical bills and other expenses.

Call (877) 446-5767 or get a free case review to find out your eligibility.

Asbestos Cancer FAQs

Are you guaranteed to get cancer if you breathe in asbestos fibers?

No, not everyone who breathes in asbestos fibers will receive a cancer diagnosis. However, people who have inhaled asbestos are more likely to develop cancer in the future.

All types of asbestos — anthophyllite, actinolite, chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, and tremolite — can cause cancer. There is no safe level of exposure to any type of asbestos.

No. Asbestosis is not cancer, it’s a benign disease that damages the lungs over time. However, asbestosis can still be deadly. Further, it’s possible to have both asbestosis and an asbestos-caused cancer (like lung cancer) at the same time.

Asbestos cancers start when people inhale or ingest asbestos dust or fibers. These fibers get trapped in the body, causing healthy cells to mutate into cancer cells.

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, meaning even a single fiber can lead to asbestos-caused cancers later in life. That said, the chances of getting cancer from asbestos rise greatly according to various risk factors, such as your length of asbestos exposure.

People who smoke and have histories of extended asbestos exposure are more likely to develop cancer from asbestos.

The survival rate for asbestos cancer varies depending on the type you have. 5-year lung cancer survival rates range from 5% to 56%, with patients living longer if they’re diagnosed before the cancer spreads.

Mesothelioma only has an overall 5-year survival rate of 10% since it’s very hard to treat this type of cancer.

You can possibly recover from asbestos cancer if your care team diagnoses it in the early stages and treats you.

Recovery and survival depend on many factors, including which cancer you have and how far advanced it is at the time of diagnosis.

Lung Cancer Group was established by a team of caring advocates so those with lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases can get the help they deserve. Our site provides the most accurate and up-to-date information about lung cancer, its link to asbestos, and financial compensation available to patients. Contact us to learn more and get assistance.

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