Lung Cancer

Asbestos exposure may lead to lung cancer, a type of cancer that begins in the lungs. According to Mayo Clinic, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Only 19% of people with lung cancer survive for 5 years after diagnosis according to ASCO. However, survival can vary widely depending on cancer stage, lung cancer type, and other factors.

Written and Fact-Checked by: Mesothelioma Hope Team

What Is Asbestos Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer cases drastically outnumber mesothelioma diagnoses by 73 to 1. Each year, 220,000 Americans contract lung cancer.

Mesothelioma is much rarer with an average of 3,000 cases yearly. The relation to asbestos also differs. About 80% of lung cancer tumors result from carcinogens like tobacco smoke, heavy metals, and various pollutants. Asbestos exposure is directly responsible for 20% of lung cancer tumors.

Mesothelioma cancer has other statistics. It is solely caused by airborne asbestos fibers entering the lungs and then working their way through to the mesothelium where they stay trapped.

The only known cause of pleural mesothelioma is asbestos exposure, and the chances of successful treatment for this type of mesothelioma are tragically low. Lung cancer tumors, however, can be isolated and treated. The reason lies in each type of tumor structure.

Mesothelioma Guide Images
Get Your Free 2022 Mesothelioma Guide
  • Top treatments & doctors
  • Financial assistance
  • Accessing VA benefits

Get Your Free Guide

Lung Cancer Versus Mesothelioma

There is a distinct difference between lung cancer and mesothelioma. Tumors in lung cancer tissue are far more common than tumors in the lung lining which is called the mesothelium.

However, lung cancer and mesothelioma are both cancerous asbestos diseases that begin in the lungs after exposure to asbestos.

Medical specialists are not sure what causes cells to turn cancerous. Healthy human cells live and die in a predictable and controllable rate. New cells form and divide to replace old cells, and that’s part of healthy growth and stability.

Occasionally, some cells mutate, defying normal DNA directions, and grow uncontrollably while refusing to die. This overgrowth forms tumors. Eventually, localized cancer cells find their way into blood vessels or lymph nodes and spread to distant parts of the body. This deadly process is called metastasis.

Lung cancer tumors form on the inner surface of the lung tissue around air sacs or the alveoli. They can also form in bronchial tubes. Regardless of where they start, lung cancer tumors start as localized growths and are identifiable. That makes lung cancer tumors easy to identify and remove or remotely treat before they spread.

Mesothelioma cancer cells are a diffuse malignancy. That means they’re spread all over the mesothelium and connect through a network of malignant cells rather than in one concentrated spot.

It is impossible to remove later stage mesothelioma surgically. Radiation and chemotherapy treatments are also less efficient at treating mesothelioma than they are at handling regular lung cancer.

Lung Cancer and Asbestos Exposure

Tobacco smoke and other irritants trigger lung cancer tumors. However, asbestos exposure is responsible for some lung cancer cases. However, every documented case of pleural mesothelioma starts with inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers.

Tobacco smoke does not directly cause mesothelioma, but smokers who have prolonged asbestos exposure are 50 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than non-smokers.

Asbestos is a generic name for silicate minerals that have fibrous structures. Asbestos fibers have unique physical properties than once appeared perfect for adding to other materials.

Asbestos fibers were:

  • Fireproof
  • Durable
  • Stable
  • Able to blend with other substances
  • Non-corrosive
  • Non-conductive
  • Chemically inert

Additionally, asbestos was widely available and highly economical. For those reasons, the toxic mineral appeared in over 3,000 different asbestos products from the 1920s to the 1980s, when its deadly carcinogenic (cancer-causing) traits were finally made public.

However, before then, countless Americans working with asbestos developed lung cancer and other diseases due to occupational asbestos exposure.

Not all raw asbestos forms are the same.

There are two distinct classifications:

  • Serpentine asbestos: This type has long, soft fibers. Chrysotile is the only asbestos in this class and accounts for 90% of all asbestos consumed in America.
  • Amphibole asbestos: There are five subtypes of amphibole fibers. They are shorter, harder, and much more dangerous to human lungs and mesothelium tissue.

When asbestos fibers enter the lungs, they do two things. First, they lodge in the lung’s soft inner tissue. Second, they traverse the soft tissue and travel through to the lung lining. Asbestos fibers stick to lung tissue and lining like flypaper. They can’t be exhaled and don’t decompose like organic pollutants.

Asbestos irritants remain in the lungs and trigger a natural immune system response to cover the fibers with scar tissue. That can be small, localized scars in the alveoli or large, extensive coverings in the mesothelium.

There is a long latency or build-up period for lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma tumors to develop. That ranges anywhere from 10 to 50 years depending on the individual circumstances. But once these tumors turn malignant, they are aggressive and come on fast, often contributing to the countless deaths from asbestos exposure.

Circular Patient Advocate Images
Get Help From a Patient Advocate

Our trusted advocates with 35+ years combined experience are ready to assist you.

Learn Moreor call (866) 608-8933

Detecting Lung Cancer Caused by Asbestos Exposure

Most lung cancer victims first suspect trouble when symptoms arise. Lung cancer tumors slowly build and then rapidly escalate.

Symptoms present as a shortage of breath, lack of oxygen, fatigue and chest discomfort. Continual coughing and excessive phlegm are also red flags of tumors.

The best lung cancer detection is knowing the risks of developing lung cancer after prolonged asbestos exposure. Patients with a history of asbestos exposure should discuss this with their doctor and have precautionary detection tests.

Treating Asbestos Lung Cancer

Doctors can use several treatments to help patients with asbestos lung cancer.

Lung cancer treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy: Cancer-killing drugs are given to shrink tumors.
  • Immunotherapy: These medications allow the body to more effectively fight cancer.
  • Surgery: Surgery allows doctors to remove cancerous tumors from the patient’s body.
  • Radiation: High-powered X-rays are used to kill cancer cells.

The key to successfully treating lung cancer is early detection. Patients may have more treatment options available if they’re diagnosed before the cancer has spread. Doctors can combine several treatments to destroy as much of the cancer as possible in these cases.

Not every patient will be able to undergo life-extending treatments — particularly if the cancer has spread throughout their body. Thankfully, these patients can receive palliative (pain-relieving) treatment to ease symptoms.

Doctors also continue to study new treatments that can help patients live longer or with less pain in clinical trials.

Compensation for Lung Cancer Caused by Asbestos Exposure

No matter if a person develops lung cancer or mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure, they have the option to seek compensation from negligent asbestos product manufacturers and distributors.

Courts across America have long held negligent parties accountable for knowingly placing innocent Americans at risk for developing lung cancer from asbestos exposure. Large companies were forced to set aside trust funds for people living with lung cancer.

Compensation is available to cover medical expenses, personal injury damages and lost income. Families of people with asbestos cancer can file claims on their behalf. They can also commence asbestos wrongful death lawsuits.

For additional information on lung cancer compensation, contact us today.


Mesothelioma Hope was founded by a team of passionate health advocates to educate people about this aggressive form of cancer. Mesothelioma affects thousands of people each year. Our team works tirelessly to give hope to those impacted by mesothelioma. Learn more about operating principles and our Editorial Guidelines.

6 References
  1. National Cancer Institute, “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk” Retrieved from Accessed on 16 December, 2017

  2. U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, “Asbestos Risks” Retrieved from Accessed on 16 December, 2017

  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Health Effects from Exposure to Asbestos” Retrieved from Accessed on 16 December, 2017

  4. National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Investigating Cancer Risks Related to Asbestos and Other Occupational Carcinogens” Retrieved from Accessed on 16 December, 2017

  5. American Cancer Society, “Asbestos and Cancer Risk” Retrieved from: Accessed on 16 December, 2017

  6. National Institute of Health, “Early Diagnosis of Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma in Prior Asbestos Workers” Retrieved from Accessed on 16 December, 2017

Speak to a Patient Advocate About Your Options

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, there is hope. Contact us to learn more about mesothelioma and your treatment options.

  • Latest treatment information
  • Financial assistance for treatment
  • VA benefits help

Submit your information and a Patient Advocate will call you right back!

Complete the Form to Speak to a Patient Advocate