Asbestos Causes Cancer – and More
There is plenty of scientific evidence to prove unequivocally that inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers can and does cause asbestos diseases, such as pleural thickening and asbestosis. Exposure to asbestos can also trigger several types of cancer, including cancers of the larynx, lung and colon. Probably the disease asbestos exposure is best known for is the deadly cancer known as mesothelioma. Although quite rare, exposure to asbestos is the only cause of this aggressive and incurable malignancy.
Here is a comprehensive description of all the diseases that can be caused by exposure to asbestos fibers:
Pulmonary fibrosis is a thickening and scarring around and between the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. This thickening takes place when microscopic asbestos fibers penetrate the lung wall, causing the body to form scar tissue around them. Pleural plaques are areas of this thickening, or fibrosis, which usually appear on the surface of the lung wall where it attaches to the ribcage and the diaphragm. By themselves, these plaques are benign.
About five to fifteen percent of people who worked with or around asbestos will develop uncalcified pleural plaques, usually twenty years or longer after their first exposure. However, the number of people who develop calcified (meaning hardened and stiff) pleural plaques thirty years after exposure jumps to between a third to half of all workers exposed to asbestos.
Diffuse Pleural Thickening
Asbestos-related diffuse pleural thickening is an extensive stiffening of the membrane covering the surface of each lung. Diffuse (meaning widespread) pleural thickening can occur at the same time as pleural plaques, but usually occurs in a different part of the lung.
While pleural plaques generally develop in the parietal pleura, which is the outer membrane of the lung wall, pleural thickening occurs in the visceral pleura, which is the fluid-filled serous membrane that lines the lungs. Diffuse pleural thickening can cause severe shortness of breath, chest pain and, in rare cases, respiratory failure and death from lung constriction.
The universally accepted definition of asbestosis is “diffuse pulmonary fibrosis caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers”. All types of asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis. Typically, it takes more than twenty years after exposure to asbestos before the onset of symptoms, which can include chest pain and shortness of breath.
Asbestosis differs from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (a fibrosis for which the cause is unknown) in that the presence of microscopic asbestos fibers can be seen by electron microscopy in the lining of the lung. Also, the disease is usually accompanied by fibrosis of the visceral pleura, which is rare in idiopathic fibrosis. As scarring progresses around each imbedded asbestos fiber, the fibrosis spreads farther and farther across the lungs until eventually the separate foci (damaged cells) link together, resulting in the widespread scarring pattern characteristic of asbestosis.
The correlation between asbestos and lung cancer was first established in the United Kingdom in 1949 when lung cancer was reported in thirteen percent of men who had been diagnosed with asbestosis.
While every kind of asbestos fiber can cause lung disease, workers who have inhaled the more durable amphibole fibers such as amosite and crocidolite are more likely to see their asbestosis progress into lung cancer. Asbestos and cancer are 2 completely different processes. Asbestosis does not progress into cancer. More so than workers who have been diagnosed with asbestosis from inhaling chrysotile fibers.
Amosite was widely used in asbestos-cement boards, floor and ceiling tiles, and roof shingles. Crocidolite was frequently used in wire and cable insulation and as gasket material.
Cancer Of The Larynx
The larynx, commonly known as the voice box or Adam’s apple, is above the trachea and below the pharynx. Like the lung, the larynx is directly in the path of inhaled asbestos fibers. Cancers of both larynx and lungs begin in the respiratory epithelium, the outer layer of tissue lining the respiratory tract that moistens and protects the airway.
While the highest risk factors for laryngeal cancer are the intake of tobacco (all forms) and alcohol, the association between asbestos exposure and cancer of the larynx has been examined in many studies and found to play a significant role. A 2005 study showed a 40 percent greater risk of developing laryngeal cancer in workers employed in asbestos-related industries over people who did not work with or around asbestos.
Groups of workers already diagnosed with asbestosis also had an increased risk of developing laryngeal cancer. In 2006, the National Academy of Medicine added cancer of the larynx to the list of ailments directly linked to asbestos exposure.
Numerous studies have confirmed that the risk of colon cancer is elevated in males who were exposed to asbestos. Workers with 21-30 years of significant asbestos exposure had a 74 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than those with less than ten years of exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the cells lining certain organs, including the lungs and the heart. No matter which mesothelial lining in the body is struck by this aggressive cancer, the cause is always exposure to asbestos.
Studies have shown that long-term and continued exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing mesothelioma. However, short-term and even single-term exposures can also trigger the disease. Despite different types of mesothelioma tumors and differing mesothelioma cell types, all forms of mesothelioma have in common their cause, which is exposure to the mineral asbestos.
A Call to Action
While mesothelioma is a particularly cruel cancer, killing its victims an average of ten months after diagnosis, it is relatively rare. The sad truth is that all asbestos diseases can reduce quality of life when breathing is impaired and patients are weakened by chemotherapy, surgery and other treatments. The manufacturers who continued to incorporate toxic asbestos fibers into their products when they knew it was dangerous needlessly exposed thousands of Americans to a carcinogenic substance known to cause devastating diseases later in life. If you have been diagnosed with an aggressive asbestos cancer, you can fight back. Contact one of our lawyers at Baron & Budd to learn what your rights are, and how your personal circumstances may qualify you to seek restitution for your asbestos exposure.