Asbestos Related Lung Cancer

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is a cancer originating in the airways of the lung or in the parenchyma, which is the tissue of the lung. Lung cancer is often fatal although in some cases can be successfully treated. Cigarette smoking is generally thought to be the major risk factor although there are potentially other causes such as asbestos exposure. The casual link between asbestos and lung cancer was identified by the publication in 1955 of the report of Richard Doll, “Mortality from Lung Cancer in Asbestos Workers” in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Smoking and asbestos exposure

Cigarette smoke and asbestos are often stated to play a synergistic or multiplicative role in the development of lung cancer. Some studies have shown that those who smoke cigarettes and have been exposed to asbestos have a fifty fold increased risk of lung cancer over the non asbestos and cigarette exposed population while those who have smoked cigarettes but who have had no exposure to asbestos have only an eleven fold increased risk. Regardless of the precise increase risk there does seem to be some interaction between cigarette smoke and asbestos in the development of lung cancer.

Asbestos Related Lung Cancer (ARLC) presents similar to other forms of lung cancer, as such it is extremely difficult to prove a diagnosis pinpointing it as being asbestos related. ARLC is generally diagnosed by way of biopsy and is extremely difficult to be confirmed as asbestos related. This possibly explains why there are relative few cases of ARLC seemingly diagnosed in Australia each year compared to other asbestos related diseases.*

Latency period

The latency period between exposure to asbestos and development of lung cancer is generally believed to be about 15 to 25 years.

Lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure is undernotified. The popular conception is that lung cancer is invariably related to cigarette smoking, but in those patients who have also been exposed to asbestos, the risk of developing lung cancer is much higher. There are various types of lung cancer including Adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma and asbestos exposure has been implicated in virtually all types of lung cancer.

Not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos, even if they smoked, will develop asbestos related lung cancer or another asbestos related disease (ARD).

Asbestos exposure has also been implicated in other cancers such as oesophageal cancer, kidney cancer, laryngeal cancer as well as other cancers.