When ingesting or inhaling asbestos fibers, you are putting yourself at risk of developing a number of asbestos-related cancers. The two best known types of cancer that are linked to asbestos exposure are mesothelioma and lung cancer. However, other forms of cancer also exist, and asbestos exposure can also lead to asbestosis, which is not cancer but still a very serious, potentially fatal condition. Most of us now known that being exposed to asbestos is dangerous, but few understand just how dangerous it is. According to the World Health Organization, 50% of all deaths due to job-related cancers are caused by asbestos exposure. They are working very hard to lower these rates.

What Causes Asbestosis and Asbestos-Related Cancers?

Asbestos cancers, as the name suggests, are caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. These microscopic fibers can become airborne and then ingested or inhaled. The body is incapable of dealing with these fibers, meaning they get lodged inside the body. As a result, genetic changes can take part in the DNA, and this can lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, and more.

Smoking does not cause asbestos-related cancers. However, it can make it more likely for someone to develop these illnesses, particularly lung cancer. Some other factors are also highlighted as risk factors, including poor dietary choices, high stress levels, and poor exercise regimes.

Asbestos Related Deaths

The Environmental Working Group has been working on what it calls the ‘asbestos epidemic’ in this country for many years. They release statistics regularly on the number of asbestos-related deaths. At their last count, they stated that nearly 10,000 Americans die every year because of asbestos. Specifically:

• 2,509 die of mesothelioma
• 1,398 die of asbestosis
• 4,800 die of lung cancer
• 1,200 die of gastrointestinal cancer

These figures mean that one in 125 people in this country are in some way affected by asbestos-related deaths. They have also stated that, between 1979 and 2001, some 230,000 lives were lost as a result of asbestos.

What to Do If You Have Been Exposed

One of the biggest problems with asbestos-related illnesses is that they have a very long latency period. It can take between 10 and 60 years for any symptoms to develop. As such, if you know you have been exposed, you will probably have to live with uncertainty for the rest of your life. It is believed that about 20% of people who have been exposed will develop some sort of condition, most of the time affecting the lungs. Some symptoms to be aware of, therefore, include:

• Chest pain
• Persistent coughing
• Shortness of breath
• Breathing problems

However, as the Environmental Working Group’s statistics show, it is also possible for people to develop conditions that affect their gastrointestinal tract. Hence, other symptoms to watch out for include:

• Pain and swelling in the abdomen
• Problems with digestion
• Changes in regular bowel habits
• Nausea and vomiting
• Fatigue
• Back pain
• Painful intercourse in women
• Menstrual changes in women

Asbestos Cancers Diagnosis

Unfortunately, it can take quite a long time for cancer to be diagnosed, particularly if it is an asbestos-related cancer. This is because the early signs and symptoms can mimic those of other medical conditions, including the flu, allergies, and pneumonia. Depending on where you experience symptoms, you may be referred to a specialist who will be able to complete various procedures and tests. If you know that you have been exposed to asbestos, you must mention this to your physician so that they can order the appropriate tests, which include:

• PET and CT scans or x-rays to determine whether tumors are present
• Blood tests to see whether blood cell counts are abnormal, although the blood markers for mesothelioma are still poorly understood
• Biopsies, whereby samples of abnormal growths are removed and checked
• Pap smear tests if ovarian cancer is suspected
• Mammogram if breast cancer is suspected
• Colonoscopy if colon cancer is suspected
• Urine tests if kidney cancer is suspected

Asbestos Cancers Treatment

The type of treatment provided to people depends on the type of cancer they have developed. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy are the ideal forms of treatment. However, cancers, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, are usually not discovered until they are in much more progressed stages. At that time, palliative care may be all that remain as an option.

Most Common Asbestos Cancers

The most common asbestos cancers are:

1. Mesothelioma, which is a cancer that is always caused by asbestos exposure. It is most common on the lining of the lung, although it can also be found on the lining of the stomach, heart, or testes.
2. Lung cancer, which is caused by asbestos exposure in between 5% and 7% of cases. Lung cancer is particularly common in people who also smoke.
3. Colorectal cancer
4. Gastrointestinal cancer
5. Prostate cancer
6. Breast cancer
7. Kidney cancer
8. Gallbladder cancer
9. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
10. Hodgkin’s lymphoma
11. Leukemia

Non-Cancerous Health Problems

Asbestos exposure can also lead to non-cancerous health problems. The first are pleural plaques, which are incredibly common in people who have been exposed. Pleural plaques are not indicative of cancer, nor do they increase the risk of someone developing cancer. It usually takes at least 20 years from the moment of exposure for pleural plaques to develop and most people don’t even realize they have it, receiving a diagnosis only when they seek treatment for something else. Pleural plaques are not dangerous.

The second, more serious, condition is asbestosis. Asbestosis happens when there is actual scar tissue on the lungs. This makes breathing a lot more difficult. Furthermore, it can lead to pleural effusions (fluid on the lungs), and many people also develop COPD, which means they need oxygen treatment, sometimes permanently. It is not, however, a form of asbestos cancer.