Smoking, Asbestos, and Asbestosis Increases Risk for Lung Cancer

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Smoking is well-documented as one of the leading causes of lung cancer. Some research indicates that as many as 90% of all cases of lung cancer are caused by chronic cigarette or cigar smoke exposure. What is less well-known and well-documented is asbestos’s connection to lung cancer.

Asbestos Damages Lungs, Too

While smoking may be responsible for the vast majority of lung cancer cases, long-term exposure to asbestos may have just as heavy an impact on lung cancer risk. Those that work with insulation manufactured before the asbestos ban, whether making it, installing it, or now removing it, have a much higher chance of being exposed to asbestos, especially in the long term.

These people have a much higher risk of developing diseases like asbestosis, which is characterized by heavy scarring in the lungs. This, in turn, can further raise the risk for lung cancer, as it causes damage similar to smoking.

Lung Cancer Rates Rise When Smokers Are Exposed to Asbestos

In studies concerning individuals who both smoke and have chronic asbestos exposure, researchers found that those who had both of these risk factors were much more likely to develop lung cancer than those who were either not exposed to asbestos (but did smoke) or did not smoke (and were never exposed to asbestos). The longer someone was exposed to asbestos, the higher their risk of developing lung cancer.

Even those who has stopped smoking, classified as former smokers, still had a much higher chance of developing lung cancer, when combined with asbestos exposure, than those who were just exposed to asbestos. This led the researchers to conclude that more than a quarter of all lung cancer cases could be attributed to both long-term smoking and long-term asbestos exposure.

Quitting Smoking Can Decrease Risk of Lung Cancer

While the damage does persist, even after a person stops smoking, in general, a person who had quit smoking had half the chance of developing lung cancer, compared to someone who was still currently smoking, even with high asbestos exposure, according to the most recent studies.

It seems that there is a link between asbestosis and lung cancer, there does not seem to be a connection between smoking and an increased risk of mesothelioma, even though mesothelioma is often viewed as a hyper-aggressive form of cancer that occurs in the lining of the lungs.

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