People at Risk of Getting Asbestos Lung Cancer
Asbestos exposure cases
More men than women have been exposed to asbestos. As a result, men are more likely to develop asbestos-related lung cancer.
Asbestos-related lung cancer usually strikes after age 65. That’s because of the long latency between exposure and disease onset.
Smoking weakens the body’s natural ability to prevent trapped asbestos from mutating healthy cells into cancerous ones.
Lung Cancer By the Numbers:
The rank of lung cancer (asbestos-related or otherwise) compared to all other types of cancer in terms of case count.
The rank of lung cancer compared to all other types of cancer as a cause of death.
The number of people who develop asbestos lung cancer for each person who develops pleural mesothelioma.
Asbestos-related Lung Cancer Follows the Same Pattern as Pleural Mesothelioma
The starting point for both is inhalation of asbestos fibers.
These fibers then become trapped in the lungs.
Years go by. During that time, the fibers trigger unhealthy changes in some of the lung’s cells.
The unhealthy cells are supposed to self-destruct to prevent neighboring cells from also becoming unhealthy. However, the presence of asbestos turns off the self-destruct switch.
Unhealthy cells that fail to self-destruct are supposed to be purged by the body’s immune system. Asbestos fools the immune system into seeing the unhealth cells as healthy. The immune system then ignores those unhealthy cells.
The unhealthy cells multiply and grow into a cancerous tumor mass.
Cells from the growing mass split away and reestablish themselves in other parts of the body. This is known as metastasis.
The four stages of
asbestos lung cancer:
- FAR ADVANCED
Symptoms of Asbestos Lung Cancer
Nothing seems to relieve it
Radiates from the chest
Food not easily swallowed
Can’t take deep breaths
Sudden, severe weight loss
No energy to do anything
Mucus contains blood
Testing for Asbestos Lung Cancer
These are the tools doctors most commonly use to clinically establish that a person has asbestos lung cancer.
Detailed Medical History
A patient who reports having worked with asbestos or asbestos products is much more likely to have an asbestos disease than one who reports little or no encounters with the mineral. Same for a patient who spent time inside buildings containing asbestos compared to a patient who did not.
Radiologic studies such as x-ray, computed tomography (CT scanning), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can reveal the presence of a tumor mass in the lungs. Sophisticated imaging technologies can also show the tumor in three dimensions and in real time.
A sample of the tumor removed by biopsy (or a sample of the fluid that builds up inside the chest cavity in response to the inflammation caused by the tumor) can be examined under the microscope and assayed using various test methods. The results of lab analysis are usually conclusive.
More about Surgery for Asbestos Lung Cancer
To qualify as a candidate for asbestos lung cancer surgery, patients must first undergo pulmonary function testing. This gives doctors an idea of whether surgery will leave the lungs with the ability to pull in, process, and expel a sufficient volume of air.
Doctors will also run a series of tests to gauge how well the other key parts of the body are likely to come through an operation on the lungs.
However, passing these tests—even with flying colors—will only be qualifying if there is no sign that the cancer has spread into the lymphatic system. Doctors can make that determination with a special test called a mediastinoscopy exam.
Types of Asbestos Lung Surgery
There are four main types of asbestos lung cancer surgery (and all of them are usually performed with the patient under full anesthesia).
The one a doctor chooses is determined in part by where in the lungs the tumor is located and how big it is. Whichever type of procedure is selected, doctors are more likely to perform surgery if the cancer is still in an early stage. In fact, the earlier the stage, the greater the probability of success.
Recovery from asbestos lung cancer surgery typically takes two to four months, the first week of which will be spent in the hospital under close observation.
These are the four main types of surgery for asbestos lung cancer:
The body contains two lungs. In a pneumonectomy, the lung affected by the cancer is removed. A pneumonectomy can only be performed if the other lung—the one that will remain—is healthy and cancer-free. Pneumonectomy patients very often go on to live happy and productive lives but with limitations (such as having shorter endurance for physical activities).
The two lungs together contain a total of five lobes. If the cancer is confined to one of those lobes, doctors will remove it rather than an entire lung. The advantage of this procedure over a pneumonectomy is that it leaves more of the lungs intact, which means better pulmonary function after the surgery. And better pulmonary function means in part that the patient should be able to look forward to greater endurance while engaged in physical activities.
It is possible to remove not an entire lung lobe but just a part of it—the part actually affected by the tumor. Wedge resection is typically chosen for patients whose lungs are not working all that well to begin with. The value of the procedure in that circumstance is it can maximize the amount of lung capacity remaining after surgery. Also, some patients’ lungs are in such delicate condition that the loss of an entire lobe would be too much.
This procedure is performed when the cancer has taken root in one of the large airways of the lungs. It involves cutting out the affected section of the airway and then reconnecting the healthy sections.
Asbestos Lung Cancer Chemotherapy Drugs
The drug cocktail is given at the beginning of (or periodically throughout) a 21- or 28-day cycle. This regimen is repeated over the course of four to six such cycles.
If at the end of the final cycle the cancer shrunk significantly in response to the chemotherapy, doctors may opt to switch to an immunotherapy regimen.
If the cancer did not shrink significantly, doctors may instead order more chemotherapy using a different combination of cocktail drugs.
And if the cancer was stopped but begins growing again after, say, six months, doctors may decide to restart chemotherapy using the same drugs as before or, possibly, different ones.
More about Radiation for Asbestos Lung Cancer
Radiation is utilized to kill cancer cells, just as does chemotherapy. The difference is that chemotherapy affects cells everywhere in the body, while radiation affects only those in a very narrow area.
There are two types of radiation for asbestos-caused lung cancer.
The first type is called external beam radiation. Here, a radiation-generating device is maneuvered directly or alongside the patient. When the device is precisely positioned it emits a narrow ray of invisible radiation. The ray penetrates the patient’s skin and reaches down into the affected areas of the lung.
Patients are given only a small dose of this radiation, but they receive it five days out of seven over the span of six to eight weeks. When patients receive their next daily dose, the ray generator is repositioned ever so slightly to deliver radiation to cancer cells adjacent those attacked the previous day.
The second type of radiation is called brachytherapy. This is meant for patients who have lung cancer in their airways.
Here, a very small amount of radioactive agent is positioned next to or within the tumor. This is accomplished by doctors with the help of a special tool called a bronchoscope. The radiation from the agent reaches not much beyond the margins of the tumor, so for the most part only the cancer cells are affected. The radioactive agent is extracted a few days later (although in some cases doctors decide it is better to leave it in place and allow the radiation to naturally dissipate over time in order to maximize the cell kill-off).
Asbestos Lung Cancer Survival – Clinical Trials Seek More Answers
Clinical trials are underway in pursuit of more and better treatments for asbestos-related lung cancer.
These trials are a first step toward securing approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make new treatments widely available.
A clinical trial starts small, with just a few volunteers who have agreed to try a treatment that looked promising when given to laboratory animals. If the new treatment continues to show promise, the number of volunteers is increased. Eventually, the new treatment is tested on a very large number of volunteers.
The main reason people volunteer to participate in clinical trials is it gives them immediate access to cutting-edge treatments that otherwise might be unavailable for years yet to come. Another reason is these futuristic therapies may be available at reduced or no cost to volunteers.
Asbestos Lung Cancer Treatment Costs
It can be very expensive to treat asbestos-related lung cancer.
- Physician Fees
- Consulting Physician Fees
- Therapeutic Services
- Home medical equipment rentals
- Increased utility expenses
- Unexpected need to travel long distances for care
- Unexpected need to lodge for days or weeks at a time near distant care centers
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How much compensation can be obtained from these options depends in large part on the knowledge, skill, and experience of the attorney representing the patient. Go here to talk to an asbestos lung cancer-focused lawyer.
About the author…
Jason Steinmeyer is a seasoned trial attorney having joined The Gori Law Firm after an eight-year career as an Assistant Circuit Attorney in St. Louis where he tried over 80 jury trials.