What is lung cancer? The National Cancer Institute defines it as cancer that forms in tissues of the lung, usually in the cells lining air passages. They estimated there would be 226,160 new cases and 160,340 deaths in the United States alone in 2012.
As we’ve known for decades, smoking is by far the leading cause of lung cancer. Indeed, the single best health decision a smoker can make is to quit smoking. However, there are other factors besides smoking that can increase your risk for developing lung cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, a connection with the following can cause lung cancer even for individuals that never smoked: radon, excessive air pollution, family history of lung cancer, and exposure to asbestos.
Lung Cancer and Asbestos: Occupational exposure to asbestos, even without a history of cigarette use, can cause lung cancer. The amount of time it takes from asbestos exposure to development of lung cancer, known as the latency period, can take 30 to 50 years.
If you smoked and you have been occupationally exposed to asbestos, then a synergistic effect between tobacco smoke and asbestos greatly increases your risk for developing lung cancer (far greater than if you smoked but were not exposed to asbestos.)
Common symptoms: A cough that persists over time, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, back pain that won’t go away, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss are symptoms that individuals suffering from lung cancer, as well as various other illnesses, may experience.
What occupations may have had asbestos exposure? There are many, as asbestos was a common material used in numerous industries throughout most of the 20th century. From the 1940s through the 1970s, asbestos was used in power plants, refineries, chemical plants, U.S. Navy ships as well as in commercial and residential construction. If you worked at one of these industrial facilities, served in the U.S. Navy or were in the construction trades during the 1950s, 60s or 70s, you may have experienced occupational exposure to asbestos.
What should you do if you think you are at risk? If you or a family member smoked, or if you were exposed to asbestos through your occupation, it’s critical for you to have regular check-ups with your doctor. If you think you were exposed to asbestos at work discuss this with your doctor. It is important to have regular screenings for asbestos-related disease and lung cancer. Consider regular chest x-rays and/or CT scans in discussions with your doctor as the National Cancer Institute reports these scans can reduce lung cancer deaths by detecting the disease at an early stage. An overwhelming percentage of lung cancer victims never discussed their potential risk for lung cancer development with their physician before they were diagnosed with cancer. Early detection is critical to successful treatment of lung cancer.