If you have been exposed to asbestos and you are a smoker, you are at an increased risk of a range of different diseases and cancers. Asbestos exposure can lead to the development of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lung. In some cases, it can affect the lining of different organs.

The fact that smoking is detrimental to everybody’s health is no secret. It is also well known that it can lead to cancer. But just what is the link between mesothelioma and smoking? Since mesothelioma is caused by inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers, it seems that smoking is not related to it.

Understanding Mesothelioma

When someone breathes in the fibers of asbestos, these can cause damage to the lining of the lung. Depending on the extend of the damage, this can cause various serious illnesses, including mesothelioma. Mesothelioma has a very long latency period, sometimes reaching into 50 years. Additionally, it is often asymptomatic, which means people don’t know they have it until it is much too late.

The Dangers of Smoking

An important fact is also that smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in this country. When people smoke, they inhale thousands of different chemicals and other contaminants, many of which are carcinogenic. When these chemicals are combined with asbestos fibers, there is reason to believe that the chance of developing mesothelioma is greatly increased.

Conflicting Research

Some research has found that people who smoke regularly and have had asbestos exposure are more likely to suffer from mesothelioma, particularly its malignant version. This is the hardest to treat form of the disease that can affect the lungs, abdomen, heart, or testes. Through research, it has been determined that the chance of developing an asbestos-related disease is 90% more likely in smokers than in non-smokers, while there is no causal effect on other diseases.

The problem is that there are various asbestos-related illnesses. Mesothelioma is one, but so is asbestosis and lung cancer. It will come as no surprise that those who have had asbestos exposure and who smoke as well, are at a much greater chance of developing lung cancer. It seems, however, that the links between asbestosis and mesothelioma are not as clear cut. Someone who is diagnosed with any of those diseases will be told to stop smoking, however, even if it is just to not damage the lungs even further.

At the same time, some researchers have determined that one of the main contributing factors to mesothelioma. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that smoking makes it more difficult for the body to rid itself of asbestos fibers, and this makes it even more likely for them to do damage, and for said damage to then become mesothelioma.

Over the past 20 years, various studies have taken place and this is where the information becomes conflicting. It is a known fact that smoking alone cannot lead to mesothelioma, with one exception. This exception is found in those who smoked Kent cigarettes, commonly provided to U.S. military personnel, as these contained asbestos. The research has also demonstrated that someone who has been exposed to asbestos and who smokes is at a 50 to 84 times greater risk of developing a type of asbestos lung cancer, albeit not necessarily mesothelioma. They believe the chance of developing mesothelioma is ‘just’ twice as high.

There are other risk factors that are made worse by smoking. These include having asbestosis. Those who have asbestosis are more likely to develop mesothelioma, and those who have asbestosis and smoke are even more likely to develop it. Additionally, the longer people smoke, the more likely they are to develop these illnesses. Stopping smoking, according to research by the National Cancer Institute reduces the chance of developing mesothelioma by as much as 50%.

A smoker who is incapable of quitting and who knows they have received asbestos exposure should get checked regularly. They should have frequent lung function tests and chest x-rays. Furthermore, they should have the Mesomark assay completed on a regular basis.

Every year, some 200,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer. This means that the medical community has to work very hard to find out more about this disease. What the research shows is that there are risk factors that increase the chance of someone developing mesothelioma after asbestos exposure. One of those is having asbestosis, and the other is smoking. The problem, however, is that much of the research that is done focuses on lung cancer. Ninety percent of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking, but only 4% of lung cancer cases are caused by asbestos exposure. By contrast, 100% of mesothelioma cases are caused by asbestos exposure.

Is There a Link Between Smoking and Mesothelioma?

The reality is that the link between mesothelioma and smoking has not yet been proven. While smoking certainly causes lung cancer, it does not cause mesothelioma. Only asbestos exposure does this. But it cannot be denied that there is a certain connection between the two, but this link simply has not yet been determined and remains a gray area. Important studies have taken place into the effects of cigarette smoking, asbestos exposure, and malignant mesothelioma. Additionally, researchers are looking at the interaction and attribution of asbestos, smoking, and lung cancer.

In a certain study, mortality rates between 1,250 male subjects and 420 females were monitored. All participants worked in an asbestos factory. Before the follow up on the report, smoking habits were also analyzed. The authors of the study drew a conclusion that there is an undeniable association between smoking and mesothelioma. However, at the same time, they said that the risk of someone developing mesothelioma is actually completely independent to smoking. As a result, the conditions are not actually related. This confusion and conflict in the research demonstrates why it is so important that further research has to take place. The general consensus, right now, is that smoking presents a significant risk factor to people who are already at risk of developing mesothelioma, and the advice to them is to stop smoking straightaway, with help if needed.