As many people know by now, exposure to asbestos can cause serious long-term damage to health. Because of the method by which asbestos enters the body (inhalation), the most commonly affected organs are the lungs. Unfortunately, lung cancer often results.
However, lung cancer isn’t the only outcome possible with asbestos exposure. There are several other diseases that may manifest with similar symptoms to lung cancer, but have different outcomes. It’s important to understand what the differences are between these, as well as what lung cancer itself is. Moreover, understanding diagnosis, treatment and potential compensation will give you a leg up in combatting the disease and paying for the resulting medical bills.
If you’re tired of suffering from the results of asbestos exposure, and want to finally make headway against lung cancer – and the financial and emotional straights it causes – you need help. Read on to understand the disease as well as your options.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a crystalline mineral that can be pulled into long, fibrous strands that are very flexible. Their consistency makes it easy to pack them into spaces as insulation and to combine them with other materials, including paper, textiles, cement, roofing tiles and others. Its significant capacity to resist heat, fire and electricity make it useful in a huge variety of fields, from construction to automotive to naval and more.
Because of its widespread usefulness, it was a popular material of choice even thousands of years ago. It became especially widely used from 1900 to the mid-1970s, its use peaking in World War II. Following discovery of the health problems associated with it, however, it was mostly banned in the mid-70s and early 80s.
Today, it is still used in minimal applications, the exposure to which is heavily regulated. However, asbestos is also dangerous when it is drilled or bored into, when coverings are removed, when buildings or ships are demolished, and more. Any time a worker is exposed to existing or new asbestos, the same dangers exist – lung cancer prime among them.
So what exactly are those dangers?
How Does Asbestos Cause Lung Cancer?
Asbestos, in essence, is not as it appears. While it looks like a fluffy substance much like cotton or another insulating material, each strand is actually composed of numerous smaller, microscopic strands. While the larger strands are flexible, the smaller ones are fragile and easily break apart when moved around or even jostled.
As a result, asbestos releases tiny particles of silicon and oxygen (the main ingredients of glass) into the air. These embed into the lungs, causing scarring and thickening of the tissues, as well as affecting the membrane that lines the lungs. Once there, the particles may also spur changes in DNA. These genetic aberrations can cause the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells, i.e. cancer.
As a result, many people develop symptoms such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain and tightness
- A persistent cough
- Wheezing and hoarseness
- Feelings of fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
- Bronchial infections
These symptoms, however, are common to multiple lung diseases caused by asbestos. So which one do you have?
What’s the Difference Between Lung Cancer, Mesothelioma and Asbestosis?
There are a few differences between asbestosis, mesothelioma and true lung cancer. While only a doctor can make a true diagnosis, generally speaking:
- Asbestosis ranges from extremely light symptoms to more severe ones, and is often a precursor to lung cancer and mesothelioma. While it isn’t necessarily deadly, nor does it always presage the latter two diseases, its presence – especially in combination with smoking – makes them much more likely.
- Mesothelioma is a specific type of cancer that occurs in the mesothelium, a membranous tissue that lines many of your internal organs as well as the abdominal cavity. Mesothelioma can affect the lungs, but it can also affect the peritoneal cavity (inner walls of the abdomen), heart and testicles.
- Lung cancer is uncontrolled growth in the lungs themselves rather than the lining.
Both mesothelioma and lung cancer may spread to other parts of the body, as is cancer’s way. They typically spread outward to lymph nodes first, then move on to the opposite side of the lung (since most cancers start in only one side) as well as other organs. Once the cancer spreads, symptoms can change.
According to the American Cancer Society, new symptoms may include “Bone pain (like pain in the back or hips); Nervous system changes … from cancer spread to the brain or spinal cord; Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), from cancer spread to the liver; Lumps near the surface of the body, due to cancer spreading to the skin or to lymph nodes (collections of immune system cells), such as those in the neck or above the collarbone.”
How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?
Doctors normally look for lung cancer in one of three ways:
- Imaging tests, typically X-rays or CT scans that use radiation to reveal the interior structures of the body, including the lungs
- Tests of sputum (spit), which can often reveal abnormal cells and may indicate the need to look further
- Biopsy, or a sample of tissue, which may be acquired through a tube in the mouth or nose or by going through the chest wall
These tests are not routine, which is why it’s important to watch out for symptoms and tell your doctor about them. If you even suspect you may have lung cancer – especially if you have been exposed to asbestos, and doubly especially if you are a smoker – don’t wait to set up an appointment.
The expected lifespan of lung cancer victims varies hugely depending on the stage of cancer when it was caught, its severity and other lifestyle factors. Luckily, cancer victims have a lot of options when it comes to treatment, including radiation, chemotherapy, surgery or combinations of some/all treatments.
Can You Get Help Paying for Medical and Other Bills?
The good news is YES, you do have options when it comes to getting help paying for medical bills. The same goes for funeral expenses, in-home care, hospice care and any other financial considerations related to the condition. If you can prove you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos, and that in turn caused or helped to cause the lung cancer, you are likely entitled to compensation.
You will need to speak with a good attorney, however. No matter how much you deserve compensation, previous employers do not want to pay it. You might have to bring a lawsuit and even go to trial, though there are other ways to get compensation as well. Bottom line: Speak to a knowledgeable attorney and start the process today. You deserve it.
- Medical Surveillance Guidelines for Asbestos. (ND). Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.1001AppH
- Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/signs-and-symptoms.html
- Lung Cancer Diagnosis. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lung-cancer/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20374627