While the term " asbestos cancer " most often refers to mesothelioma, a number of other cancers are associated with asbestos exposure. Lung cancer, for example, is a direct result of asbestos exposure.According to the World Health Organization, approximately half of all deaths from occupational cancer are caused by asbestos.
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the United States and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration calls it “the greatest health risk for American asbestos workers.” Asbestos-related lung cancers are diagnosed more frequently than any other type of asbestos-connected disease. Between 5,000 and 10,000 asbestos-related lung cancer fatalities have occurred each year over the span of the last two decades. Unlike mesothelioma, the risk of lung cancer is greater among asbestos-exposed smokers. The synergistic effect of smoke and asbestos drastically weakens the lungs and makes smokers with past asbestos exposure more likely to develop lung cancer.
As its name suggests, asbestos cancers are caused by the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos. When these toxic fibers enter the body, they can cause genetic changes in healthy mesothelial cells. Over time, healthy mesothelial cells die and tumors grow in their place. Asbestos exposure is practically the only cause and risk factor for mesothelioma, while lung cancer can be caused by smoking cigarettes or exposure to radon.Although smoking exacerbates any potential symptoms that asbestos-related diseases may display, it does not increase your risk of developing mesothelioma if you’ve been exposed to asbestos. Conversely, smoking combined with asbestos exposure does greatly increase the risk of developing lung cancer.