Mesothelioma and lung cancer: both linked to asbestos exposure

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Asbestos Lung Disease or CancerInhaling asbestos fibres is a known cause of several distinct disease processes including mesothelioma and lung cancer. Both eventually lead to deterioration in lung function and pain – and while there is treatment there is no cure.

The latency, or development periods, for both cancers can be lengthy – up to 4 decades. Yet once diagnosed, both can course rapidly through the body and can be fatal within a short period of time. In fact in the case of mesothelioma particularly, the malignancy is extremely slow growing, and it is usually only once symptoms materialise that an individual will consult their GP and eventually a diagnosis is made.

The first step to diagnosis is often a chest x-ray or CT scan. If there is a suspicion of a disease process or malignancy most clinicians will at this stage take a detailed history from the patient and as part of this will question whether they have ever worked with asbestos.

Whilst the vast majority of instances of mesothelioma can be traced to asbestos exposure, the same is not true of lung cancer which can have other causes completely unrelated to asbestos and can often occur in people who have never been exposed to asbestos. Evidence was first collated in the 1960s which suggested that people who had been exposed to asbestos and who have smoked are at up to 5 times more likely to develop certain cancers than those who have only been exposed to asbestos or only smoked. The risk factors associated with smoking do not end when a person ceases smoking however the risk of developing lung cancer is associated with the frequency of smoking and with the length of time that a person has been a smoker.

There are various other environmental causes of lung and throat cancer including radon gas and certain cleaning agents and petrochemicals.

Emma Costin, Head of Industrial Disease at Simpson Millar LLP comments "Deaths caused by asbestos and by tobacco either in isolation or combination should be regarded as preventable deaths. Although asbestos is now banned Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics suggest that it remains present in some half-a-million UK buildings, particularly our public buildings and schools. Smoking in public places is also banned and smoking generally is reported to be in decline in the UK."

"The good news to take from this is that we are told we are close to or at the peak of preventable deaths from asbestos and smoking in the UK. Our message to the general public remains the same: if a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma they should consult an independent solicitor as soon as possible. If a patient is diagnosed with lung cancer and has a history of working with asbestos they should consult a solicitor, irrespective of whether they have also smoked."


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