Asbestos Lung Cancer

Did you know that 1/3 of all Small Cell Lung Cancer cases are caused by Exposure to Asbestos? Did you or a loved one work for a company that used Asbestos? Review our list of the Top Companies Linked to Asbestos Exposure. 

Lung cancer most commonly evolves from cell types such as epithelial, squamous, sarcomatoid, spindle, and others that are characterized by size and thickness. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is brought about by oat cells, given that name because of their shape and thinness due to a small amount of cytoplasm. SCLC is also known for its rapid, aggressive tendency to grow quickly and spread quickly. It usually starts in the bronchi, the tubes that connect the lungs with the trachea.

The disease has been heavily associated with smoking; virtually all patients that develop small cell lung cancer have been smokers. But exposure to industrial pollutants can also play a role; according to the National Institutes of Health exposure to chemicals such as uranium, gasoline, and ethers can contribute to the development of SCLC, as can mixtures such as paints and preservatives, products using chloride, and Asbestos. Of all of these substances, with the possible exception of gasoline the most common on the job exposure for workers in the second half of the twentieth century has been to asbestos. 

The History of Asbestos Cancer

Asbestos was among the most commonly used minerals for production of industrial insulation, fire retardant material, sealant, and hundreds of other products throughout the twentieth century. By 1980 most asbestos products were outlawed in the United States, but by then millions of workers had been exposed to asbestos products on the job. Inhaling asbestos fibers causes them to lodge in the body which is incapable of shedding them. Eventually they can cause asbestosis and the most common form of asbestos cancer, mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma usually develops in the lining of the lungs. Asbestos lung cancer develops on the internal surface of the lungs; not coincidentally small cell lung cancer almost always starts in the bronchi, the tubes that connect the lungs to the trachea. The irritation caused by embedded asbestos fibers is known to contribute to small cell lung cancer in patients that were exposed to asbestos and that smoked at some point in their lives.

Asbestos Lung Cancer

Because most mesothelioma cases develop in the outer lining of the lungs (the pleura) people have often referred to this disease as asbestos lung cancer. But mesothelioma actually arises in the mesothelium, the membrane lining the outer surface of the lung. Asbestos lung cancer is another condition altogether: a form of lung cancer caused by the asbestos fibers that found their way into the lungs and stayed there. It is believed that pleural mesothelioma is caused by asbestos fibers that were inhaled and worked their way through the wall of the lung to the membrane lining the outer surface. But asbestos fibers also remain in the lung, as evidenced by the many cases of asbestosis, a condition characterized by scarring of the lung’s internal surface.

Asbestos related small cell lung cancer is another unfortunate result of the massive use of asbestos products in the twentieth century. It is just as lethal as mesothelioma, if not more so. While SCLC is more responsive to chemotherapy and radiation than mesothelioma, the fact that it almost always returns is reflected in the poor survival rates for both diseases.