Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the United States according to the National Cancer Institute.  Although smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, lung cancer risk is also increased by exposure to workplace toxins such as asbestos. As a matter of fact, the Surgeon General has reported those who smoked and were exposed to asbestos had a 90 fold increase in the risk of lung cancer.  Hundreds of thousands of workers in the United States have been exposed to asbestos on the jobsite for decades in the 1930s through 1970s. With the phasing out of the manufacture of asbestos-containing products, there were less exposures to new products after the 1970s; however tear out and removal of existing products in place continues to expose workers to deadly asbestos.

Lung cancer occurs when there is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that form tumors affecting the function of the lung.  The DNA of these cancer cells is altered by the inhalation of the asbestos fibers and cigarette smoke.  When the cancer cells divide, they produce more of the mutated cells.

There are two types of lung cancer: Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer and Small Cell Lung Cancer.  The distinction is based on what the cells look like under a microscope.  Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) is more common than Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC). The treatment for lung cancer depends on many factors, including the patient’s health and the size, location, and extent of the tumor(s).


Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small Cell Lung Cancer

The most common types of NSCLC are squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma.  The stage of the disease refers to the extent to which the cancer has spread in the body.  The stage of the disease is also important in determining the most appropriate treatment.

  • Stage I– cancer is confined to the lung and not spread to the lymph nodes, making it possible for it to be surgically removed.
  • Stage II– cancer is in the lung and spread to the nearby lymph nodes, surgery may be an option along with other treatments.
  • Stage III– cancer is in the lung and has spread to the lymph nodes in the middle chest area, surgical removal is very difficult.
  • Stage IIIa– cancer spread to lymph nodes same side of chest.
  • Stage IIIb– cancer spread to lymph nodes opposite side of the chest or above collar bone.
  • Stage IV– cancer has spread to both lungs and or spread to other organs in the body, surgical removal is not an option.

Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) are categorized into two stages. Although SCLC is more responsive to chemotherapy and radiation, this cell type has a greater tendency to be widely spread by the time it is discovered making a cure difficult.

  • Stage I– cancer confined to the lung, mediastinum, or the supraclavicular lymph nodes
  • Stage II- (extensive stage) cancer has spread beyond the supraclavicular areas.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer and Small Cell Lung Cancer may be caused by asbestos exposure. 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, chemotherapy and other options previously discussed. Most lung cancer usually develop slowly, but it frequently spreads to other parts of the body in its advanced stages.  Consequently, it is often diagnosed late, when medical measures are relatively ineffective.

Asbestos and Smoking - A Lethal Combination

It is a well-known fact that smoking cigarettes may cause cancer.  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 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 a job at any time during their life – or who even suspect that may have been exposed-should not smoke. SMOKING DOES NOT CAUSE MESOTHELIOMA.