Asbestos Toxicity

Asbestosis is a disease affecting the inside tissue of the lungs, where chronic inflammation and scarring takes place due to asbestos exposure. This serious medical condition increases the risk of certain cancers including lung cancer and in its advanced stage, mesothelioma. Asbestosis is a result of breathing in asbestos fibers or dust into the lungs and the resulting damage and symptoms develop over time. Specifically, asbestosis occurs when asbestos fibers penetrate deep into the lungs causing a thickening of the infected area making breathing difficult (shortness of breath) and reducing oxygen intake and thereby reducing the amount of oxygen transferred to the blood as well as the removal of carbon dioxide. When such fibers reach the air sacs in the lung, where oxygen is transferred into the blood, the asbestos fibers cause the activation of the lungs’ local immune system causing inflammation. This inflammatory reaction can be described as chronic rather than acute, with a slow ongoing progression of the immune system attempting to eliminate the foreign fibers. The resulting inflammation attracts fibrous cells that build up causing the tissue to scar.

Asbestosis is not a lung cancer (malignant tumors) but is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer, accelerated by smoking, and heart disease and may contribute to cardiac arrest.

Asbestos inhalation has also been linked to other diseases such as cancer in the throat, esophagus, larynx, stomach and colon.

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Asbestosis Treatment

Asbestosis History

Asbestosis treatment, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute may only help to relieve symptoms since no cure exists for the disease and damage to the lungs is irreversible. Doctors may prescribe oral medications to thin the lung fluid, inhalers like bronchodilators and antibiotics. Certain therapies are recommended such as acquiring influenza and pneumonia vaccinations to prevent the escalation of the disease, oxygen therapy to help oxygenate the blood, chest percussion (postural drainage) to relieve symptoms of congestion and difficulty breathing and surgery when prescribed to remove scar tissue. Smoking is a major contributor to the worsening of symptoms and can led to lung cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and death.

In 1924, Nellie Kershaw became the first pulmonary asbestosis death to be linked to asbestos exposure. An English textile worker for Turner Brothers Asbestos Company, Nellie was employed as a rover, spinning raw asbestos fibers into yarn. As early as 1900, British researchers began to notice a large number of deaths and lung ailments developing in asbestos-mining towns. In 1899, Dr. H. Montague Murray, a London doctor performed a postmortem autopsy on a young man who had died from pulmonary fibrosis, having worked in an asbestos textile factory for over 14 years. Dr. Murray discovered asbestos traces in the victim’s lungs. Consequently, the Inspector General of Factories in Britain, included asbestos in a list of harmful industrial substances in 1902. The English Government unfortunately never officially recognized the medical condition that was to become asbestosis, and consequently Turner Brothers accepted no liability for Nellie Kershaw’s injuries and ultimate death and no compensation was ever paid. However, the English Government did conduct a parliamentary enquiry into her death and concluded that there was irrefutable evidence that prolonged inhalation and exposure to asbestos dust caused asbestosis.

The first lawsuits filed on behalf of asbestosis victims in England didn’t take place until 1929. In America asbestos manufacturers knew of the health risks surrounding their product as early as the 1930s, but chose to conceal the information from the public. The U.S. government waited until the 1970s to take action. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos. Only uses established prior to 1989 were still allowed, and those are subject to regulation.

Regulations by the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have significantly reduced asbestos consumption in the U.S. and these levels have steadily declined since 1974. Over the years, restrictions have become tight, from 12 fibers per cubic centimeter (f/cc) in 1971 to 0.1 (f/cc) as the permissible exposure limit (PEL) currently in regulation.

Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute 90% of all lung cancers are tobacco smoking related. Its estimated that only 4% of all lung cancers are asbestos related. At the 2 types of lung cancers, non-small cell cancer and small cell cancer are discussed and the FDA approved list of drugs are represented for both types of cancer treatments. We have included a tremendous amount of information about lung cancer, causes, effects, treatments, etc. on this website.

Lung cancer may be caused by asbestos. Medical research has shown that workers exposed to asbestos get more than their fair share of lung cancers, which are assumed to result from inhaling the asbestos fibers over a long period of time. Most asbestos-related lung cancer starts in the lining of the bronchi, the tubes into which the trachea—or windpipe—divides. Asbestos lung cancer may also begin in the trachea, bronchioles, or alveoli.

The treatment for lung cancer depends on many factors, including the patient’s health and the size, location, and extent of the tumor(s). Treatment options include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, or any combination of these. Lung cancer usually develops slowly, but it frequently spreads to other parts of the body. Consequently, it is often diagnosed late, when medical measures are relatively ineffective.

Asbestos and smoking—a lethal combination

It is well known that smoking cigarettes may also cause cancer. But the combination of smoking cigarettes and inhaling asbestos fibers is especially deadly. The National Cancer Institute reports that smokers who are also exposed to asbestos have a risk of developing lung cancer that is greater than the individual risks from asbestos and smoking added together. Smoking, however, is not a risk factor for mesothelioma.

It is important to avoid or stop smoking to prevent disease, especially if you have been exposed to asbestos. There is some evidence that asbestos-exposed workers who quit smoking can reduce their risk of developing lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute recommends that people who were exposed to asbestos on the job at any time during their life—or who even suspect they may have been exposed—should not smoke.