Asbestos Related Lung Cancer – Facts You Should Know
The link between asbestos and lung cancer is well established today. However, this was not always the case. For many decades, asbestos was considered to be a miracle mineral. It is an excellent insulator and this was one of its primary uses. Asbestos was also incorporated into a wide range of products manufactured.
Suspicions that asbestos exposure could cause serious health problems existed as far back as the last decade of the nineteenth century. It is thought that those interested in promoting asbestos consumption acted to discredit such reports.
By 1931, the British government had concluded that asbestos was possibly harmful to the body and took steps to ensure safety of those handling asbestos. The US government undertook similar actions during the 1970s.
Unfortunately, by that time, many thousands of people had their lives seriously affected by asbestos related lung cancer and other health problems. Asbestos was widely used in factories, homes and elsewhere.
Asbestos causes problems like scarring in the lungs, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural plaques. It also causes a deadly, aggressive type of cancer called mesothelioma.
Unlike normal lung cancer which affects the tissues of the lung itself, mesothelioma affects the lining around the lungs called the pleura. This type of cancer arises almost only due to asbestos exposure.
Even a short exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma. Further, the cancer can show up several decades after the asbestos exposure.
As with most lung-related cancers, smoking increases the odds of contracting mesothelioma significantly. Some studies indicate that a smoker who has been exposed to asbestos has 50 to 90 times the chances of developing mesothelioma and other cancers of the lung, when compared to a non-smoker with similar asbestos exposure. A non-smoker who has been exposed to asbestos has about 5 times higher chance of developing mesothelioma compared to people who were never exposed to asbestos.
If you have had any exposure to asbestos either in the workplace or elsewhere, you should have regular screenings to detect any abnormalities in the lung. And this should be continued because lung cancer can show up as late as 50 years after the asbestos exposure. Early diagnosis of lung cancer offers the best hope for survival.
Diagnostic methods for detecting asbestos related lung cancers include going through a patient’s medical history as well as performing chest x-rays, MRI scans, CAT scans, tissue sampling and biopsy.
The outlook for those diagnosed with mesothelioma (and other types of lung cancers) is generally not encouraging. In some cases, the life expectancy for someone diagnosed with mesothelioma may be as little as 2-3 months. Multi-treatment methods used in some clinical trials have managed to significantly enhance life expectancy — one such trial achieved a 40% survival rate at five years.
Treatment for mesothelioma often combines chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. In many cases though, surgery may be ruled out because the cancer is diagnosed at a late stage. There are new chemotherapy treatments available that seem promising.
The first drug developed specifically to treat mesothelioma was Alimta, which was approved by the Food and Drugs Administration in 2004. When Alimta is used in combination with Cisplatin, which is also a drug used to treat cancers, it was found to increase patients’ life expectancy. There is intensive research going on to produce a cure for these aggressive asbestos related cancers and these efforts may eventually produce a reliable cure.