Asbestos Cancer would have been of less concern if we knew about the dangers of asbestos. Unfortunately, it took modern researchers decades to find a link between this deadly fiber and the damage it does to the body. Today, 2,000 to 3,000 people a year are diagnosed mesothelioma or lung cancer for exposure to it.
Because of the it’s long latency period, most patients develop asbestos cancer between 20 and 50 years after the initial exposure to asbestos. Many who are diagnosed with asbestos cancer are age 50 or older and have had the disease for years without knowing. It is difficult to diagnose, and once it starts, it can spread quickly.
What is Asbestos Cancer?
While it is not yet fully understood how asbestos fibers lead to cancer, researchers are working to find the answer. Top researchers have some theories, though. Some believe that asbestos fibers cause irritation and inflammation of mesothelial cells, resulting in severe tissue scarring, cellular damage and tumor. Others believe that the fibers can enter the cells and disrupt the structure and communications, leading to the abnormal cell division that causes cancer. Still others believe that asbestos causes cells to produce a protein that causes cells to malfunction and ignore their normal processes.
Regardless of how asbestos reacts with cells, the harm it causes attacks the lining of the lungs, known as the mesothelium. This causes the pleural cavity to fill with fluid and impair breathing. In more advanced stages, asbestos cancer can spread to other parts of the body, such as the tissues, organs and lining of the abdominal cavity and the heart. The cells may also be introduced to the bloodstream, where they spread to the lymph nodes, letting the cancer spread even faster.
As a result, people afflicted with asbestos cancer may experience shortness of breath, chest pains, nausea, trouble breathing, a persistent chest cough and other symptoms. Because these symptoms are common to many other illnesses, doctors may not suspect it right away. Further testing can reveal whether this is the cause of these symptoms.
Mesothelioma is the most common asbestos cancer, but lung diseases may be a result of exposure as well. The risks for developing either type of complications increase dramatically in smokers and those who don’t use safeguards to protect against continued exposure to asbestos.
Unfortunately, the life expectancy for both asbestos cancers is short, so immediate treatment is necessary to fight the disease and improve the patient’s quality of life. Treatments usually include chemotherapy and radiation, and when caught early enough, surgery may be an option.
If you or a loved one have been exposed to asbestos, it is important to have routine visits with your doctor. The earlier cancer is detected, the better the prognosis and life expectancy and the faster you can get started on treatment.