Asbestos lung cancer refers to lung carcinomas where exposure to asbestos is a major cause of the disease. People with a history of asbestos exposure are several times more likely to develop lung cancer. Smoking significantly increases this risk.
The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program estimates 6,000 Americans die of asbestos-related lung cancer each year. These are cancer where the main cause is exposure to asbestos.
All forms of malignant mesothelioma, which is also linked to asbestos exposure, kill roughly 2,500 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s roughly 2.4 times more people dying each year due to asbestos lung cancer than dying of all forms of malignant mesothelioma.
The combination of smoking and long-term asbestos exposure is particularly harmful to lung tissue. Together, they significantly increase disease risk beyond the risk associated with either factor alone.
When microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged in lung tissue. Over time, these fibers cause inflammation, cellular damage and genetic changes that lead to cancer.
The time between asbestos exposure and cancer diagnosis — typically 20 to 50 years — is called the latency period.
The connection between asbestos and lung cancer is well known. The National Cancer Institute confirmed the connection in 1942.
Several important factors affect whether a person will develop asbestos-related lung cancer:
The symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer are similar to those of lung cancer caused by smoking.
Reaching an accurate lung cancer diagnosis can take time. If you do not have a history of smoking, your doctor may not suspect asbestos-related lung cancer. They may initially diagnose you with a less serious condition such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
This is why it’s important to share your history of asbestos exposure with your doctor. Do this at the first sign of symptoms. If your doctor is aware of this potential lung cancer cause, they can push the diagnosis process along more quickly.
Treatment options for asbestos-related lung cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and emerging medications such as immunotherapy.
Patients diagnosed in the earlier cancer stages tend to have more treatment options and respond better to treatment.
There are several FDA-approved immunotherapy drugs to treat non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). About 85% of all lung cancer cases are NSCLC.
Many asbestos-related lung cancer patients can access these immunotherapies and other treatments through established treatment protocols, clinical trials and compassionate-use programs.
Three FDA-Approved Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor Drugs for NSCLC
These three drugs are used alone, in combination with one another, or with other chemotherapy medications to treat non-small cell lung cancer. They are offered to patients even if their lung cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body.
According to a 2019 paper in Expert Reviews in Respiratory Medicine, lung cancer experts confirmed that “immune checkpoint inhibitors have been established as the new standard of care for patients with advanced NSCLC.”
They often are less toxic and more effective than chemotherapy alone.
Results from the KEYNOTE-010 clinical trial of more than 1,000 patients with advanced NSCLC were published May 2019 in Journal of Thoracic Oncology.
The authors reported health-related quality of life and symptoms were the same or better when patients were treated with Keytruda compared with docetaxel chemotherapy.
People who have experienced occupational asbestos exposure are more at risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer than people without this job history. This risk increases further in people with a heavy smoking history, too.
A 2017 study published in Molecular and Clinical Oncology analyzed 147 male patients with asbestos-related lung cancer.
The most common work histories among patients in the study included:
The most common types of jobs were:
Former smokers represented 79.5% of patients in the cohort, followed by current smokers (10.3%) and nonsmokers (5.5%).
Patients had a median duration of asbestos exposure of 28.3 years and a mean latency period of 10.5 years. The shorter-than-average latency period may have been observed because nearly all of these patients were former or current smokers.
Former workers in these occupations also are at risk for other asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and pleural scarring.
10 Cited Article Sources
Sponsored by The Peterson Firm, 1050 30th Street NW, Washington, DC 20007 © 2019 PleuralMesothelioma.com