Asbestos Related Lung Cancer (bronchial carcinoma, adenocarcinoma)

While much of the focus on cancers caused by asbestos is on mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the lung, heart, or abdomen), other thoracic carcinomas, such as adenocarcinoma, are also caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is estimated to account for 3,400 to 8,500 new lung cancer cases in the United States each year.

Like mesothelioma, the latency period between asbestos exposure and the development of asbestos related lung cancer may be two, three, four, or even more decades. Very often, asbestos-related cancer victims also suffer from asbestosis, a scarring of the lung tissue caused by asbestos exposure. About one in seven people with asbestosis will eventually develop lung cancer.

A number of studies have attempted to determine whether asbestosis is present in all cases of asbestos-related lung cancer. While this would simplify the pathology determination once a lung cancer diagnosis was made—and potentially aid in treatment decisions—this has not proved to be a reliable pattern in asbestos related lung cancer cases.

I have lung cancer but I smoked; does my asbestos exposure matter?

Yes. Physicians who are knowledgeable about asbestos-related diseases will tell you that asbestos exposure and cigarette smoking are a lethal combination.

Alone, either cigarette smoking or asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer. In combination, asbestos and smoking have a synergistic effect, meaning asbestos and smoking together cause lung cancer at a rate that neither could produce independently. For instance:

  • A heavy smoker, defined as 20 pack years (smoking one pack a day for 20 years), has a 10 fold increased risk of developing lung cancer over a non-smoker.
  • A non-smoking asbestos-exposed worker has a 5 fold increased risk of developing lung cancer over a non-smoker not exposed to asbestos.
  • However, a person with a 20 year pack history and industrial asbestos exposure has a 50 to 90 fold increased risk of developing lung cancer over a non-smoking, non-asbestos-exposed person.

Asbestos exposure has been determined to be a substantial contributing factor in the development of lung cancer for those who smoked. Therefore, if you were exposed to asbestos and developed lung cancer, you may be entitled to asbestos compensation, even if you smoked.

Group Smoking Mortality Rate
Control No 1.0
Asbestos Workers No 5.2
Control Yes 10.9
Asbestos Workers Yes 53.9

Quitting Still Counts

The National Cancer Institute strongly encourages asbestos-exposed workers who smoke to quit. Just as with their non-asbestos-exposed counterparts, the risk of lung cancer drops dramatically after stopping tobacco use. Some studies have suggested the risk to asbestos-exposed smokers dropped as much as 50% within five years of kicking the habit.

What is mesothelioma lung cancer?