Asbestos Related Disorders

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Understanding COPD

Does asbestos exposure cause lung cancer?

Although exposure to asbestos alone can lead to lung cancer, the risk increases dramatically in smokers of cigarettes or other forms of tobacco.

  • In nonsmokers who have been exposed to asbestos, the risk of lung cancer is five times that of unexposed workers.
  • Smokers who are exposed to asbestos have a 50 to 84 times greater risk of lung cancer, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry.

Lung cancer in asbestos-exposed and unexposed individuals is similar in both the type of cancer and its signs and symptoms. The link between cigarette smoking, asbestos, and cancer of the lung itself does not apply to cancer of the lining of the lung (see malignant mesothelioma section below). Diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer is a complex topic and a pulmonary specialist should be involved in the workup of a suspected lung cancer.

What is malignant mesothelioma?

Asbestos is the only known risk factor for malignant mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the tissue lining the lung (pleura) or abdomen (peritoneum). Malignant mesothelioma is not associated with cigarette smoking but is strongly linked with the degree of asbestos exposure. However, 20% to 40% of patients with malignant mesothelioma have no prior asbestos exposure. In malignant mesothelioma, there is a very long duration between exposure and the onset of disease, usually greater than 30 years.

What other cancers have been linked to asbestos exposure?

Other malignancies have been linked to asbestos, including cancers of the voice box (larynx), upper throat (oropharynx), kidney, esophagus, and gallbladder.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/29/2016

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