Asbestos Cancer: Symptoms, Risk Factors And Treatment


Asbestos cancer is commonly known as mesothelioma. This is a cancer commonly associated with asbestos exposure. Inhalation or ingestion of large amount of toxic asbestos fibers is the root cause of asbestos cancer. There are several other cancers those are associated with asbestos exposure. In which lung cancer is the main. Lung cancer can be directly caused by asbestos exposure. As per the World Health Organization, nearly half of the deaths from occupational cancer are caused by asbestos.

Asbestos Cancer Causes

No doubt, asbestos cancer or mesothelioma is caused mainly due to inhalation or ingestion of asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally in the form of fibers. The asbestos fibers are found in soil and rocks in different parts of the world. Asbestos is made up of oxygen and silicon along with other elements. The asbestos fibers are too small to be seen by the naked eye. They do not get dissolve in the water nor get evaporated. They are resistant to heat, chemical and biological degradation.

The exposure of asbestos results from breathing in asbestos fibers. The rocks, soils and other products having asbestos contents when disturbed, they realises the asbestos fibers into the air. The asbestos fibers that are inhaled through mouth or nose may eventually become embedded in the lining of the lungs. This causes harmful inflammation of the pleura (scar tissue formation in the lungs) that result in mesothelioma or asbestos cancer.

Almost every one of us is exposed to asbestos at some time in our life. But some of us are at higher risks of asbestos exposure those,

  • Works in an asbestos mine or factory
  • Lives near the area containing naturally occurring asbestos that gets disturbed through crushing of rocks or stir up dust in soil
  • A waste site where asbestos is not covered properly and do not have protection from wind erosion
  • The building being torn down and renovated that contains the asbestos products
  • Working in high-risk occupational settings like construction or automotive industries
  • Serving on military ships or facilities built with the products containing asbestos

The most harmful exposure to asbestos occurs at work. Here are the most prevalent occurrences of the asbestos exposure that can cause asbestos cancer or mesothelioma:

  • Industrial workers
  • Insulators
  • Construction workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Chemical plant workers
  • Power plant workers
  • Boiler workers
  • Auto mechanics
  • Craft jobs

Secondary Exposure Of Asbestos

The families of workers listed above are also at great risk of asbestos exposures. When these workers come home with asbestos fibers on their clothes, hair and tools; the family members get exposed to these toxic substances and thereby increase the risk of mesothelioma.

Environmental Asbestos Exposure

As asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally, the people living near the areas of asbestos deposits such as hills and mountain regions can also face the possible exposures to asbestos. The air in such areas contains the asbestos fibers and which is the most dangerous for the health of the people living near asbestos mines.

Developing Of Mesothelioma

The studies states the asbestos may damage the body in multiple different ways and can lead to mesothelioma. Usually, a repeated exposure to asbestos can develop a mesothelioma. But in some cases even a minor exposure to asbestos can be harmful. Higher doses of asbestos exposure can cause greater risks of developing mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease.

Once the asbestos is inhaled, the body finds it hard to get rid of the sharp, jagged fibers. They may build up in the abdomen and lungs over time. Many years after the first exposure to asbestos may cause cancerous changes in the body. The cancer starts in mesothelial cells that make up the protective membranes that cover the lungs, hearth and abdomen.

Asbestos Causes Tumor To Develop

  • Fibers inflame and irritate mesothelial cells that leads to irreversible scarring, cellular damage and cancer
  • Asbestos fibers that enters the mesothelial cells and disrupt the life cycle can cause genetic changes that can lead to cancer
  • Asbestos exposure can cause the production of the radicals and molecules that damages the DNA and cause healthy cells to undergo the cancerous mutations
  • The asbestos fibers can trigger the production of the oncoproteins that blocks the gens those protect the cell from growing uncontrollably and forms the tumors.

Asbestos fibers are dangerous and can become a root cause for formation of tumors.

Symptoms Of Asbestos Cancer Or Mesothelioma

Unfortunately, the mesothelioma or asbestos cancer symptoms mirror many other kinds of lung-related diseases. The symptoms differ from the type of cancer and can be vague and mild. Early signs of mesothelioma can be so slight that they are mistaken as normal pains, aches, illnesses, etc. making it hard to detect the asbestos related cancer. The common mesothelioma symptoms are:

  • Dry cough or wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Respiratory complications
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain in the chest
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Fever
  • Pleural effusions
  • Anemia
  • Muscle weakness

Symptoms Of Advanced Mesothelioma Includes:

  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss
  • Respiratory complications

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms:

  • Chest pains
  • Shortness of breathe
  • Reduced chest expansion
  • Harsh breathing sounds
  • Faint
  • Dry cough
  • Wheezing
  • Pleural effusions
  • Coughing up blood
  • Body aches
  • Blood clotting disorders

Cancer is very hard to detect. By the time someone identifies the warning signs, the cancer often has spread and makes it difficult to treat. If you find any of such symptoms, you can inform the doctor along with the history of asbestos exposure with you. This can help to detect the early signs of asbestos related diseases and mesothelioma and you can get better chance of a potentially curative therapy.

Prevention Of Asbestos Cancer

Avoiding the asbestos exposure can be a great prevention of asbestos cancer or mesothelioma. Today more and more people are becoming aware of the dangers of asbestos exposures, especially those who work in asbestos mines and factories.

Preventing Asbestos Exposure At Works

The OSHA placed regulations on asbestos in early 1970s. OSHA requires the employers to take proper steps to protect the workers from asbestos such as:

  • Perform air monitoring and keeping the records
  • Complete regular assessments of asbestos risks
  • Communicating and making aware about the asbestos hazards to workers
  • Using proper work practices
  • Controlling the limits of exposures
  • Providing respiratory protection if the exposure limits gets exceeded
  • Providing training on asbestos awareness
  • Providing medical surveillance to workers exposed to asbestos

While removing the asbestos materials from the factories or from home, it is necessary to follow proper abatement methods so as to ensure complete safety. Avoid performing asbestos work if you are not trained or certified to do so.

Anyone who is performing renovation work on a home should take professional assistance for disposing the asbestos materials. If possible do not disturb the asbestos material.

Treating The Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Till date, there are some treatments developed aiming to kill the cancer cells, prevent them from spreading, alleviates cancer symptoms and pain. Though many type of cancers cannot be cured with the treatments available today, the major focus is to lessen the symptoms, improve patient’s quality of life and the survival rate. The treatment options will be limited by the stage of the cancer. Those are diagnosed in the earlier stages of disease have the most treatment options and such patients experience the greatest survival rate.


Surgery is suggested to remove a tumor and nearby cancerous tissues. This helps eliminating the disease completely. Well, the extent of tissue removal depends on the size of the tumor, its location and how far the caner has spread. Resection, Lobectomy and pneumonectomy are common surgeries for removal of tumor and cancer tissues.


When lung cancer gets spread from the initial tumor, chemotherapy is recommended. This helps in reducing the size of the tumors and kill cancer tissues that have spread to the lymph nodes. The chemotherapy also turns into some side effects such as hair follicles, red and white blood cells, the cells that line the stomach. About 80 percent of the lung cancer and other cancer patients are considered for chemotherapy during the course of their treatment.


For those patients who are not eligible for surgery, radiation is recommended. A high energy targeted radiation stops the cancerous cell division and reduces the size of tumors. Response to radiation therapy is very high, but relapse is common. And that is why, radiation is administered in small doses to lessen the pain in the areas where cancer has spread.

Apart from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation; the scientist are working hard to invent new methods to treat cancer. Recent advancement in the understanding and manipulation of genes have opened the possibilities of altering a person’s genetic material to fight and prevent cancer.