Asbestos Lung Cancer

Asbestos is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance), and many exposed to it have developed lung cancer. Asbestos fibers can get trapped in the lungs, leading to scarring, irritation, and cancer tumors. Asbestos-related lung cancer is dangerous, but medical treatments are available. Learn about how asbestos causes lung cancer and how to get help after a diagnosis.

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Can Asbestos Cause Lung Cancer?

Yes. While lung cancer is most commonly caused by smoking, it can also be caused by asbestos exposure.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was used in many products, ranging from construction materials to household goods, between the 1930s and early 1980s.

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If asbestos-based products are broken or damaged, they might release fibers into the air and go on to develop lung cancer later in life. Sadly, people were unaware of the dangers of asbestos until it was too late since makers of asbestos-based products hid the risks for decades.

The connection between asbestos and lung cancer is still strong today. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) notes that between 8,000 and 10,000 asbestos-related lung cancer patients die each year.

The good news is that medical care can help asbestos lung cancer patients live longer — and financial aid may be available as well. Learn more about getting compensation for asbestos lung cancer with a free case review.

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How Asbestos Exposure Leads to Lung Cancer

Asbestos exposure can lead to lung cancer if someone inhales asbestos fibers. Learn more about how asbestos causes lung cancer below.

1. Asbestos Dust Inhalation

Working with or around asbestos-containing products can release dust and fibers into the air. Those nearby could inhale the fibers.

When people inhale asbestos dust, fibers might get stuck in the alveoli, tiny air sacs in the lungs where oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide when breathing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asbestos fibers can sometimes be removed by the body. However, in many cases, the fibers get stuck inside the lungs forever.

2. Immune System Response

Asbestos fibers cannot be broken down by the body if they get stuck inside. Thus, they remain in the lungs and cause irritation. This irritation triggers the immune system to cover the fibers with scar tissue.

Ultimately, the fibers will continue to harm the lungs for decades and even cause cellular mutations despite the immune system’s best efforts.

3. Formation of Asbestos Lung Cancer Tumors

Asbestos lung cancer growths may develop in the scarring 10-50 years after someone was first exposed. This is because the built-up scar tissue causes healthy lung tissue cells to mutate into cancerous ones. Once cancerous cells become big enough, they can grow into tumors and continue to destroy nearby healthy tissue.

Without treatment, asbestos lung cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body and lymph nodes in a process called metastasis.

Did you or a loved one develop lung cancer from asbestos? Call (877) 446-5767 to see if you can receive financial aid.

Types of Asbestos That Lead to Lung Cancer

There are six types of asbestos that fall into two groups. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), exposure to any type of asbestos can cause lung cancer and other health problems.

The two groups of asbestos are:

  1. Serpentine asbestos: The only type of serpentine asbestos is chrysotile, which accounts for 90% to 95% of all asbestos used in the United States. Chrysotile asbestos has soft, long fibers.
  2. Amphibole asbestos: Amphibole asbestos was rarely used when compared to serpentine asbestos. This group includes tremolite, actinolite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, and amosite asbestos. These fibers are harder and shorter.

If you’ve been exposed to any type of asbestos and are now suffering from possible symptoms of lung cancer (like shortness of breath or a cough), see a doctor immediately and tell them of your concerns.

Who Is at Risk of Asbestos Lung Cancer?

Anyone with a history of asbestos exposure could develop lung cancer later in life. That said, those at the highest risk of lung cancer were regularly exposed to asbestos.

People at an increased risk include those who:

  • Worked with asbestos-based products in jobs like car repair, shipbuilding, construction, and manufacturing
  • Lived in buildings made with asbestos insulation and other materials
  • Shared a household with those who were regularly exposed to asbestos at work

Also, former or current smokers who were exposed to asbestos are at a very high risk of lung cancer. A cigarette smoking history and history of asbestos exposure amplify the damage done to the lungs.

Smokers who were exposed to asbestos are 50 times more likely to get asbestos lung cancer than nonsmokers who weren’t exposed. By contrast, nonsmokers exposed to asbestos are only 5 times more likely to develop lung cancer.

Asbestos Lung Cancer Types

Asbestos exposure can cause any type of lung cancer.

Types of asbestos lung cancer include:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): This is the most common type of lung cancer. When viewed under a microscope, the cells are larger than those of small cell lung cancer. Subtypes include adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, sarcomatoid carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.
  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC): This is a less common type, and it usually begins in the cells that line the bronchi in the middle of the lungs. The main types of SCLC are combined small cell lung carcinoma and small cell carcinoma. It’s the most difficult type to treat.
  • Bronchial carcinoids: By far the rarest type, bronchial carcinoids are much more easily treated than NSCLC or SCLC.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), it’s still not fully known why some people develop one type of lung cancer over another.

Lung Cancer vs. Mesothelioma

Many people confuse asbestos lung cancer for malignant mesothelioma, another aggressive cancer. However, there are many differences between the two types of cancer.

Lung cancer starts in the lungs themselves. Mesothelioma develops in the linings of major organs, including the lining of the lungs (pleura), abdominal lining (peritoneum), heart lining (pericardium), or testicle lining (tunica vagainalis).
Generally speaking, there are many risk factors besides asbestos exposure that are linked to lung cancer. Mesothelioma is only caused by asbestos.
Lung cancer is also much more common than mesothelioma. Only 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed per year. By contrast, the ACS estimates that over 238,000 lung cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2023.

That said, help is available whether you developed mesothelioma or lung cancer from asbestos exposure. Learn more with a free case review now.

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Symptoms of Asbestos Lung Cancer

The symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer are the same as lung cancers not caused by this mineral. Generally speaking, lung cancer patients often have little to no symptoms until the cancer has started to spread.

Asbestos lung cancer symptoms include:

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

If you are experiencing these symptoms and were exposed to asbestos, talk to your physician immediately. Your doctor can then take steps to see if you have lung cancer.

Diagnosing Asbestos Lung Cancer

Health care teams can diagnose asbestos lung cancer by ordering various tests and screenings.

These tests include:

  • Blood tests: These can reveal lung cancer-related abnormalities such as higher levels of alkaline phosphatase and calcium in the blood.
  • Imaging tests: Chest X-rays, CT scans, and other tests can take pictures of the interior of your body. Doctors can use these images to look at suspicious areas that might be lung cancer and see how far the cancer might have spread.

If doctors believe you have cancer after the results of blood and imaging tests, they’ll likely recommend a biopsy. Biopsies involve doctors removing lung tissue or fluid samples to check them for cancer cells. This is the only way to confirm if you have cancer or not.

Types of asbestos lung cancer biopsies include:

  • Needle biopsy: This uses a hollow needle to retrieve a small sample from a suspicious mass.
  • Thoracentesis: This is when doctors remove abnormal excess fluid from around the lungs to study it.
  • Thoracoscopy: This involves using a thin, flexible tube with a light and video camera at the end to see if the cancer has spread beyond the lungs and chest. Doctors can also take tissue samples with this test.

If doctors diagnose you with asbestos lung cancer, they may recommend lung function or pulmonary tests to evaluate how well your lungs are working. This is especially important when doctors are considering using surgery to treat the cancer after confirming a diagnosis.

Treatments for Asbestos Lung Cancer

A female patient puts her arm on an older male patientOncology (cancer) doctors can use a variety of treatments for asbestos lung cancer. The available treatment options for lung cancer will be the same whether you were exposed to asbestos or not.

Asbestos lung cancer treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy: This uses drugs to shrink lung cancer tumors. Chemotherapy drugs can be pills you take, injections in your veins, or both.
  • Clinical trials: These studies test upcoming lung cancer treatments. If you are interested in taking part, your care team can help you find a suitable clinical trial.
  • Immunotherapy: This boosts the immune system so it can kill cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: These treatments use high-energy rays to damage cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Surgery: This involves doctors removing lung cancer tissue, along with all or part of a lung.
  • Targeted therapy: This uses medications to block the spread and growth of lung cancer cells. They are more specially tailored to fight cancer cells than chemotherapy. These medications can be injections in your veins or pills.

Our team can help you afford asbestos lung cancer treatments following a diagnosis. Learn more by getting a free case review.

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Asbestos Lung Cancer Prognosis

The overall prognosis (expected health outcome) for asbestos lung cancer is generally low since it’s typically hard to treat and usually diagnosed after it has spread, limiting available treatment options.

The following prognostic statistics apply to all cases of lung cancer.

  • The survival rates for asbestos lung cancer vary by the type you have. According to the ACS, the 5-year survival rate for NSCLC is 28%. This means only 28% of patients are still alive 5 years after diagnosis. The 5-year survival rate for SCLC is 7%.
  • Average lung cancer life expectancies vary slightly as well. Patients with NSCLC typically live for 11-13 months, while SCLC patients live between 7 and 16 months.

Medical care is the only way to outlive these averages. It is possible to live for decades with lung cancer — particularly if you’re diagnosed and treated before the cancer has spread very far.

Compensation Options for Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Treatments for lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases can be prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, patients can access asbestos lung cancer compensation in a couple of different ways. Learn about compensation options below.

Asbestos Lung Cancer Claims

It may be possible to file private claims against the companies that made and sold the asbestos-based products you were exposed to. These private claims, also known as lung cancer lawsuits, will demand the companies pay for harming you.

It’s important to get legal help if you’re interested in filing a private claim. Top asbestos lung cancer lawyers and law firms can make the process much easier for you and your family.

Asbestos Trust Fund Claims

Makers of asbestos-based products were forced to establish asbestos trust funds if they filed for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy protection means these companies can’t be sued, but the trusts will still allow you to get compensation.

As of 2023, over $30 billion is available in asbestos trust funds. You may qualify to file trust fund claims following an asbestos lung cancer diagnosis. Talk to an experienced asbestos lawyer to start the process today.

VA Benefits Claims

If you were exposed to asbestos during military service and later got sick, you may qualify to file for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The VA often pays out thousands of dollars each month to veterans with lung cancer, mesothelioma, or other asbestos-related illnesses. Free or low-cost medical treatment is also available through the VA.

Find Help After an Asbestos Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Receiving an asbestos lung cancer diagnosis can be confusing, frustrating, and stressful. Thankfully, if you or a loved one developed lung cancer due to asbestos exposure, Lung Cancer Group can help.

You may qualify for financial compensation to cover the costs of lung cancer treatment. Get started with a free case review right now.

Asbestos Lung Cancer FAQs

Why was asbestos used if it was linked to lung cancer?

Asbestos-based products were widely used because they were durable, fireproof, and non-conductive. Manufacturers knew asbestos-containing products could harm people back in the 1930s. However, they didn’t want to cut in on their profits, so they hid the truth.

Many workers who experienced occupational asbestos exposure at high levels have developed lung cancer, pleural thickening, and other negative health effects.

Some companies continue to use asbestos even today because it’s not fully banned in the United States.

Yes, asbestos lung cancer is treatable. However, it’s harder to treat advanced asbestos lung cancer that’s spread throughout the body. In these cases, treatment is more focused on relieving symptoms rather than improving a patient’s survival.

If you were exposed to asbestos, it’s possible that you could get lung cancer later in life. Asbestos conditions have a long latency period. As a result, those exposed to asbestos typically may develop lung cancer 10-50 years after initial exposure.

Not everyone exposed to asbestos will get lung cancer, though. You may wind up getting mesothelioma, asbestosis, or another asbestos-related disease other than lung cancer. Or, you might never get sick.

Your odds of getting an asbestos-related disease are much higher if you were exposed to asbestos regularly at a job.

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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  5. American Cancer Society (2019, October 1). “What Causes Lung Cancer?” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

  6. American Lung Association (2022 November 17). “Lung Cancer Fact Sheet.” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

  7. Canadian Cancer Society (2020 May). “Survival statistics for small cell lung cancer.” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

  8. Canadian Cancer Society (2020 May). “What is Lung Cancer?” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022 October 25). “What is Lung Cancer?” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

  10. Environmental Working Group (n.d.). “Asbestos kills 12,000-15,000 people a year in the U.S.” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

  11. Epidemiology. (1999). “Synergy between asbestos and smoking on lung cancer risks.” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

  12. European Respiratory Journal (1993). “Quantitative importance of asbestos as a cause of lung cancer in a Swedish industrial city: a case-referent study.” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

  13. National Cancer Institute (2021 November 29). “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk.” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

  14. Occupational Cancer Research Centre: CAREX Canada (2019). “Asbestos.” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

  15. Systematic Reviews. (2013). “Survival of patients with non-small cell lung cancer without treatment: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

  16. Turkish Journal of Medical Sciences. (2020). “Survival analysis and factors affecting survival in patients who presented to the medical oncology unit with non-small cell lung cancer.” Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

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