Asbestosis is a lung condition that is caused by asbestos exposure. There is no cure for the condition, which means that it is chronic. Asbestos was a commonly used mineral because of its fantastic properties. Long known as the ‘miracle mineral’, it is commonly found in construction sites, railway work, the shipping industry, the U.S. Navy, and more. While it has long been known that asbestos exposure was dangerous, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the real risks became known and asbestos was taken out of circulation.

Unfortunately, asbestos-related conditions have a very long latency period, ranging from 10 years to 60 years. It is also not known exactly how much exposure is needed in order for someone to develop one of the conditions. As such, it is believed that many more people will present with asbestos illnesses within the next few years, as they were exposed during their work. Today, asbestos is no longer used, but it is still found in older buildings and construction sites. If left undisturbed, it poses no danger. However, if disturbed, the fibers can become airborne, leaving people at risk of breathing them in or swallowing them.

Asbestosis is not a cancer. It is a condition that means that the lungs have been damaged due to asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, those who have asbestosis are at increased risk of developing one of the many asbestos-related cancers. If someone with asbestosis develops a tumor, therefore, an asbestos cancer is expected to develop.

What Are Asbestos Cancers?

An asbestos cancer is a result of breathing in or ingesting asbestos fibers. The more fibers that are inhaled or ingested, the bigger the chance that a cancer will develop. The two most common types of cancer are mesothelioma and lung cancer, but there are various other cancer risks as well.

When people speak of ‘asbestos cancer’, they usually mean mesothelioma. However, lung cancer is also common, particularly in people who are current or past smokers. At present, research studies into the links between asbestos and various forms of cancer are being conducted. The World Health Organization has estimated that around 50% of occupational cancers are linked directly to asbestos exposure.

Tumor Research

Various studies have taken place into the effects of asbestos on human health. In one study of 1,047 people working in the asbestos industry, 208 died as a result of a malignant tumor. The majority of cancer deaths were respiratory cancers, mainly in the lungs, trachea, or bronchi. However, there were also a significant number of people who suffered from cancers of the peritoneum, which is the abdomen’s lining, and the digestive organs.

Asbestos Cancer Tumors

Mesothelioma is the cancer that is the most commonly associated with asbestos. It usually affects the lining of the lungs, but it can also be found in the lining of the abdomen, heart, or testicles. It was the seriousness of this condition that prompted the Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission to impose strict regulations on how asbestos was used. Unfortunately, not all companies immediately imposed the regulations, and those who worked in the industry prior to these regulations are still left wondering whether or not they will develop it.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to diagnose asbestos cancer. One of the reasons for this is because the symptoms can easily be confused with other conditions, including pneumonia, the flu, and asbestosis. Common symptoms of all asbestos cancers, asbestosis, and common, less serious respiratory illnesses include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic coughs
  • Fever

If, however, patients state that they have had asbestos exposure, of if they worked in an industry where exposure is common, a physician should immediately investigate whether tumors are present.

The two main asbestos-related cancers are mesothelioma and lung cancer. There are two significant differences between these two, however. The first is that mesothelioma is exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Lung cancer can be caused by exposure, but also through smoking or, in some cases, for no apparent reason. It is believed that between 5% and 7% of all lung cancer cases are caused by asbestos, however.

Lung cancer already is the second most common cancer type in this county. According to the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, asbestos is the “greatest health risk for American asbestos workers”. They also suggest that twice as many people die from lung cancer after asbestos exposure than from mesothelioma. This is particularly true if the person who was exposed also smoked. During the height of asbestos exposure, most people were also smokers, as the link between smoking and health problems was not officially recognized yet either.
If someone has been exposed to asbestos, they can also develop a number of other cancers, including:

  • Colorectal
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Prostate
  • Breast
  • Gallbladder
  • Kidney
  • Ovarian
  • Laryngeal

Additionally, people can develop:

  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Leukemia

A tumor, in other words, could point to any of those types of cancers. However, as stated, the most common cancers are mesothelioma and lung cancer, so physicians must learn to recognize the difference between the two types of cancer, which are particularly different in terms of how the tumors present.

Mesothelioma Tumors vs Lung Cancer Tumors

Mesothelioma and lung cancer are two incredibly different types of cancer, not in the least because it affects different tissues. However, because they both affect the lungs, they do present the same symptoms, including weight loss, fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Unfortunately, once these symptoms become apparent, the cancers are often already quite advanced.

Diagnosing mesothelioma and lung cancer is done in similar ways. A chest x-ray is usually ordered first, which shows whether there is any tumor growth. If found, then PET or CT scans will be ordered in order to develop a more accurate picture. Additionally, biopsies will be taken from the affected tissue, and these are what allow a physician to determine what type of cancer is present. If lung cancer is suspected at any point, a cytology test may be ordered, which means the phlegm expelled during a cough is examined.

There are more similarities and differences between the two types of cancer. During the first two stages, both tumors will have localized tumor growth, which means they do not spread. At stage 3, both lung cancer and mesothelioma usually present with more advanced growth, meaning they have affected the lymph nodes. The real difference between tumors is in stage 4. With lung cancer, it is common to see tumors in many other organs of the body. With mesothelioma, however, the tumors will rarely go past the lung.

Another big difference in the tumors is that lung cancer usually presents with large, singular tumors. This means surgery has a reasonable chance of being successful, as the affected tissue can be removed. With mesothelioma, however, the cancer is usually very small, but it spreads very rapidly to all of the tissues of the lungs. This means surgery is rarely a viable option. Aside from surgery, both cancers can be treated using chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Experimental research in fields, such as immunotherapy, photodynamic therapy and marijuana, are currently ongoing.

A final difference between the two types of tumors is prognosis. The prognosis for the first year of diagnosis is similar between lung cancer and mesothelioma. After that, however, the survival rates for mesothelioma drop very rapidly. For those who also have asbestosis, their prognosis is reduced even further, regardless of the type of cancer tumor that they have.