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Asbestos Lung Cancer

Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos — even one time or in small amounts — is at risk of developing lung cancer 10-50 years after the fact. Symptoms may include persistent coughing, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and unexplained weight loss. Learn more about the symptoms of asbestos lung cancer, treatment options, and how Mesothelioma Hope can help you pursue compensation for your illness.

Medically reviewed by: Amy Fair, RN

Last updated:

What Is Asbestos Lung Cancer?

Asbestos lung cancer is a lung disease directly caused by exposure to asbestos, a deadly mineral used in a variety of products from the 1930s to the early 1980s before the health risks were made public.

People with this disease may have been exposed to asbestos in a variety ways, such as at home, in the workplace, or while serving in the U.S. military. Because it can take decades for asbestos lung cancer to develop, victims may just now be getting diagnosed today.

If you know you were exposed to asbestos at some point in your life, or suspect you were, you should be screened for asbestos-related diseases like lung cancer as soon as possible.

Construction materials made with asbestos fibers
Detailed view of asbestos fibers

Key Facts on Lung Cancer from Asbestos

  • Causes: Breathing in or swallowing asbestos dust or fibers
  • Common symptoms: Chest pain, shortness of breath, chronic cough
  • Risk factors: Occupational or secondhand asbestos exposure, smoking, other lung diseases
  • Tests for diagnosis: Chest X-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), biopsies, blood tests
  • Treatments: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, palliative therapy (symptom-relieving treatment)
  • Survival rate: 5-year survival rate of 18.6% for all types of lung cancer

Those who’ve been impacted by lung cancer from asbestos may be eligible for compensation from asbestos product manufacturers. Get a free case review now to learn more.

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Asbestos Lung Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of lung cancer associated with asbestos vary depending on the stage of the cancer, as well as the patient’s health, age, and other factors.

Common asbestos lung cancer symptoms include:

  • Blood with cough
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty recovering from respiratory infections
  • Face and neck swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarseness
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Wheezing

How Does Asbestos Cause Lung Cancer?

If someone is exposed to asbestos, the fibers or dust could get trapped in the lungs. Over time, this can cause genetic changes that lead to cancer.

It can take 10-50 years to develop lung cancer from asbestos. This period of time is known as the latency period, and it’s often the reason lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases may be misdiagnosed or diagnosed in the later stages.

While not everyone exposed to asbestos develops lung cancer, the risk is significantly higher for those who have had prolonged or intense exposure, especially if they also smoke.

Types of Asbestos Exposure

People may encounter asbestos in various ways, from working with it, to unknowingly being exposed to it in older homes, schools, and buildings, or serving in the U.S. military.

Here are some common ways people are exposed to asbestos:

  • Occupational exposure: High-risk industries included shipbuilding, coal mining, construction, plumbing, and electrical work. Students and staff in older schools built with asbestos products may also be at risk of exposure.
  • Military service exposure: Military personnel may have worked with asbestos as it was used in all five branches of the military — the U.S. Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard — as a fireproofing agent.
  • Environmental exposure: People who lived in areas with high levels of asbestos, such as cities or towns with known asbestos superfund sites, could have been exposed to it.
  • Secondhand exposure: Loved ones of people who worked with or around asbestos may have come in contact with asbestos on their family members’ clothing or shoes.

3 Compensation Options for Lung Cancer Victims

If you or a loved one has developed lung cancer from asbestos, you have three main options for seeking compensation. Read more details on your options below.

1. Asbestos Trust Funds

First, you may be able to get payments from asbestos trust funds. These funds were established to help asbestos victims get compensation even after companies that manufactured asbestos products declared bankruptcy.

As of 2024, over $30 billion is set aside in asbestos trusts for patients diagnosed with lung cancer and other asbestos-related illnesses. Many victims receive the first of multiple payouts within 90 days.

Our legal partners can help you or a loved one access some of this compensation by filing claims on your behalf. See if you qualify for trust fund payouts today.

a lawyer shares documents with a client
Access Asbestos
Trust Funds
  • More than $30 billion available
  • $300K-$400K average compensation
  • Get money in 90 days or less

Check If You Qualify

2. Asbestos Lung Cancer Claims

You can file an asbestos lung cancer lawsuit against any asbestos product manufacturers that don’t have established trust funds. In a lawsuit, you can claim damages for pain and suffering, medical bills, and other costs related to your lung cancer.

Nearly all asbestos lawsuits end in a settlement, which means you can potentially get compensation without stepping foot in a courtroom. Some victims have received more than $1 million in asbestos lung cancer settlements.

Notable lung cancer settlements secured by our legal partners include:

  • $1.6 million for a plumber whose wife also got lung cancer from secondhand exposure and passed away
  • $1 million for a New York master electrician
  • $912,000 for a lung cancer patient in West Virginia
  • $825,000 for an Arizona steel mill worker

Get a free case review today to see if you or a family member may be able to receive compensation from an asbestos lung cancer lawsuit.

3. Veterans Benefits

From the 1930s to early 1980s, the U.S. military used asbestos-containing products throughout its ships, vehicles, buildings, and other assets without knowing the health risks.

Veterans benefits are available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to people who served in the military and later developed lung cancer or other diseases like mesothelioma from asbestos exposure.

Examples of VA benefits include monthly disability payouts, free or reduced-cost medical treatment, and survivors pensions for spouses and children.

Asbestos Lung Cancer vs. Mesothelioma

Asbestos lung cancer is not the same as mesothelioma cancer. While both diseases are caused directly by asbestos exposure, they have distinct symptoms, prognoses, and survival rates.

Here are the main differences and similarities between lung cancer and mesothelioma:

  • Asbestos lung cancer is a cancer of the lungs; mesothelioma can affect the lining of the lungs (pleura), lining of the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma), or testicle lining (testicular mesothelioma).
  • The 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is 18.6%; mesothelioma has a 5-year survival rate of 10%.
  • Mesothelioma and lung cancer have common symptoms of coughing, fatigue, and chest pain.
  • Both cancers can be treated with tumor-removing surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy.
  • Malignant mesothelioma usually has small tumor nodules that spread throughout the body; lung cancer is typically marked by large tumor masses.

Asbestos Lung Cancer Types

There are two major types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type and accounts for up to 85% of all lung cancer cases. It responds better to lung cancer treatment than other types.

This type of cancer can be further broken down into three subtypes:

  1. Adenocarcinoma, or tumors that form in the glandular tissues lining the lung air sacs
  2. Large cell carcinoma, or tumors that appear anywhere in the lung tissue
  3. Squamous cell carcinoma, or tumors that form on the flat cells lining the lung airways

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is the rarer type of lung cancer and the more difficult type to treat.

Risk Factors for Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Several factors can increase your chances of getting lung cancer from asbestos. These factors include how much asbestos you were exposed to, how often you were exposed, and for how long.

Other environmental and individual factors can increase or decrease this risk. For example, non-smokers exposed to asbestos have a lower risk of lung cancer than people who smoke.

Factors that put you at increased risk of lung cancer include:

  • Family history of lung cancer or lung disease
  • Radon gas exposure
  • Secondhand tobacco smoke exposure
  • Smoking

Factors that put you at increased risk of asbestos-related diseases include:

  • Being exposed to asbestos products for a long period of time
  • Being exposed to large amounts of asbestos
  • Having lung disease
  • Having the gene mutation BAP1
  • Repeat exposure to asbestos
  • Smoking history

While asbestos exposure alone can cause lung cancer, having any of these other factors may increase your risk for developing the disease.

Do you need help after a diagnosis of asbestos lung cancer?

Mesothelioma Hope can see if your family may be able to to access financial compensation to pay for your medical bills and treatment.

Get a free asbestos case review now to see if you qualify.

Smoking and the Risk of Asbestos Lung Cancer

Smoking and asbestos exposure can have a synergistic (mutual) effect in causing lung cancer. Both smoking and asbestos exposure are well-established independent risk factors for lung cancer, and when combined, their harmful effects can be amplified.

“Many studies have shown that the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure is particularly hazardous. Smokers who are also exposed to asbestos have a risk of developing lung cancer that is greater than the individual risks from asbestos and smoking added together.”
– American Cancer Society

When asbestos fibers are breathed in or swallowed, they can become lodged in the lungs and cause inflammation, and scarring. Smoking introduces harmful substances into the lungs, leading to additional damage. When an individual is exposed to both asbestos and tobacco smoke, the risk of developing lung cancer is significantly higher.

Is Asbestosis a Risk Factor for Lung Cancer?

Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition caused by scarring of the lungs. Its only known cause is asbestos.

While asbestosis can damage and weaken the lungs, it is not considered a direct risk factor for lung cancer.

However, people with non-cancerous lung conditions, like asbestosis, pleural plaques (fluid buildup in the lungs), or pleural thickening, may develop lung cancer later on.

This is not because these conditions put them at risk but because they have asbestos within their bodies already. Rather, asbestos may cause further damage to an area of the body that develops into cancer over time.

Diagnosing Lung Cancer Caused by Asbestos

There are a number of ways to help confirm a lung cancer diagnosis.

A doctor reviews a chest X-ray with a patient

Tests used to diagnose lung cancer from asbestos include:

  • Biopsy: This involves taking a small sample of tissue or fluid from the affected area and sending the sample for testing in a lab. A biopsy is the only way to confirm an asbestos lung cancer diagnosis.
  • Chest X-rays: These scans are taken to look for abnormal areas in the lungs.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans: With a CT scan, cross-sectional images will be taken for a more detailed look at the lungs. These scans are more likely to show tumors than X-rays.
  • Lung cancer screening: Screening is done when symptoms are not present and is often based on exposure history, family history, or other risk factors. Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans combine X-rays and low-dose radiation to produce detailed lung images
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRIs combine radio waves and magnets to show detailed images of the body and can reveal the spread of lung cancer.
  • Physical exams: Your doctor can listen to your lungs and ask you questions about your work history to determine if you need testing for this cancer.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: During this test, the body is injected with radioactive sugar. Because cancer cells are more active, they soak up this sugar. Then a special machine takes pictures to show where the sugar went, helping doctors see and track cancer.

The Risk of Misdiagnosis

In the early stages of this cancer, you may have vague symptoms that mimic more common illnesses like bronchitis or pneumonia.

If lung cancer from asbestos is misdiagnosed, this can waste precious time in developing an effective treatment plan and aggressively treating the disease.

You should always ask your doctor for a diagnosis or second opinion if you’re unsure whether you may have been exposed to asbestos.

Stages of Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Lung cancer stages help doctors determine the spread of the cancer, the likelihood of your body’s response to treatment, and other factors related to your prognosis (overall health outlook).

NSCLC has five stages based on the Tumor-Node-Metastasis (TNM) system.

The TNM system breaks down NSCLC into the following stages:

  • Stage 0: Early-stage lung cancer, has not spread; no symptoms
  • Stage 1: Early-stage lung cancer, either in substage 1A or 1B; mild or no symptoms
  • Stage 2: Tumors may be larger than in stage 1 and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes or organs
  • Stage 3: Tumors may have grown and may have spread to lymph nodes in the area between the lungs
  • Stage 4: Metastasis; advanced-stage lung cancer that has spread to distant organs and lymph nodes

SCLC has only has two stages: limited and extensive. Limited stage SCLC is only in one lung and has not spread. Extensive stage SCLC has spread and may have reached body parts other than the lungs.

Asbestos Lung Cancer Prognosis

A prognosis is the medical term for the likely outcome of a disease, or how it is predicted to develop over time.

The lung cancer prognosis for each individual tries to account for how the person will be affected by the disease, from the symptoms they may experience to their quality of life.

In general, the prognosis for lung cancer from asbestos is fairly poor. However, the prognosis is affected by individual factors.

For example, people who are diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer and generally in overall good health or who are younger may have a better prognosis. People with late-stage lung cancer tend to have a poorer prognosis.

Treatment from a qualified oncologist (cancer doctor) is the best way to improve your asbestos lung cancer prognosis.

Asbestos Lung Cancer Survival Rate & Life Expectancy

Survival rates for asbestos lung cancer are used to measure the percentage of patients who are alive after a certain period of time. Survival rates are generally provided in 1-, 3-, 5-, and 10-year increments.

  • The 5-year relative survival rate for all types of lung cancer is 18.6%.
  • The 5-year survival rate for NSCLC (most types of asbestos lung cancer) is 28%.

Life expectancy is how long people typically live for after their lung cancer diagnosis. This number is affected by a range of factors, including the type of lung cancer they have, the stage at diagnosis, and the patient’s age and overall health.

  • Patients with NSCLC have an average life expectancy of 11-13 months.
  • Patients with SCLC have an average life expectancy of 7-16 months.

Treatment Options for Asbestos Lung Cancer

Treatments for lung cancer from asbestos include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy. Which treatments will be used can vary based on the patient’s cancer stage, tumor size, tumor location, and lung cancer type.

Learn about the most common treatments for lung cancer below.


Surgery is most effective for patients in earlier stages whose asbestos lung cancer has not metastasized (spread) to other areas of the body. Lung cancer surgery typically involves removing all or part of the affected lung.

There are generally two types of surgeries for lung cancer:

  • Minimally invasive surgery, which involves making tiny incisions to the chest and performing the surgery with help from a tiny camera and specialized instruments.
  • Thoracotomy, which involves an incision along the side of the ribs, dividing muscles in the chest wall, spreading the ribs, and removing the diseased part of the lung.


Chemotherapy, or chemo, uses specialized prescription drugs to treat lung cancer. This can be done before, during, or after surgery.

Chemo can help shrink tumors or kill cancer cells. It may also be used in combination with immunotherapy and radiation therapy.

Current asbestos lung cancer chemotherapy medications include:

  • Carboplatin
  • Cisplatin
  • Docetaxel
  • Paclitaxel
  • Pemetrexed


Immunotherapy helps boost the immune system so it can naturally attack existing cancer cells and fend off new cancer cells.

Types of immunotherapy used for asbestos lung cancer include:

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams like X-rays to attack cancer cells, stop their growth, and kill them. It can be used in combination with surgery or chemotherapy.

Radiation may be used to help treat lung cancer from asbestos or to manage its symptoms.

Palliative Care

For advanced-stage lung cancer, treatment will likely not focus on helping patients live longer but on making them more comfortable and improving their quality of life.

This is known as palliative care. It can include holistic treatments, pain medication, and other treatments for symptom management.

Get Justice for Asbestos Lung Cancer

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with asbestos lung cancer, reach out to Mesothelioma Hope now.

Our team has over 20 years of experience helping victims of asbestos exposure, including people facing lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other asbestos diseases.

We can help you find a top asbestos lawyer who can help your family recover compensation that you can use for treatment, daily living expenses, and anything else you see fit.

Reach out today at (866) 608-8933 to get started or request a free case review.

Asbestos and Lung Cancer FAQs

Can you get lung cancer from asbestos?

Yes, exposure to asbestos is a known cause of lung cancer. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was widely used in various industries for its heat-resistant properties.

When asbestos fibers are released into the air and breathed in or swallowed, they can become lodged in the lungs, leading to inflammation and scarring over time. This chronic irritation and damage increases the risk of lung cancer.

What is the life expectancy of asbestos lung cancer?

Life expectancy for early-stage asbestos lung cancer patients is 57 months on average.

The average stage 4 life expectancy can be as little as 5 months. This is why it’s important to see a doctor for a diagnosis or second opinion as soon as you begin noticing symptoms.

Can you get compensation for lung cancer caused by asbestos?

Yes, you may have options to seek compensation if you developed lung cancer from asbestos.

You can file personal injury lawsuits against the companies responsible for the exposure, access asbestos trust funds set up by bankrupt manufacturers, or file for disability benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Call our team of legal advocates at (866) 608-8933 right now to discuss your options.

What type of lung cancer is caused by asbestos?

The two main types of lung cancer from asbestos are small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

If you’ve been exposed to asbestos — even if it was decades ago — you should seek medical advice and get regular cancer screenings for early detection and management.

How easy is it to get lung cancer from asbestos?

The chances of developing lung cancer after asbestos exposure depend on several factors, such as the length and level of your exposure, whether you smoke, and your body’s response to the fibers.

Not everyone who works or lives around asbestos gets lung cancer, but the risk is higher if you were exposed over a long period. Studies suggest that higher levels of asbestos exposure over extended periods increase the likelihood of lung cancer.

Registered nurse Amy FairReviewed by:Amy Fair, RN

Registered Nurse (RN)

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Amy Fair, RN, is a mesothelioma nurse with over 20 years of experience offering unwavering support to patients from the moment they are diagnosed and throughout the progression of their disease. Before becoming a mesothelioma nurse, Amy spent ten years providing compassionate care via home health care.

    Jenna TozziWritten by:

    Director of Patient Advocacy

    Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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    12. National Cancer Institute. “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk.” Retrieved May 3, 2024,  from
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