Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk


Asbestos is a mineral found in rocks and soil. Even though it is a natural substance, it can be highly toxic. Exposure to asbestos fibers, especially over the long-term, can cause cancer and other serious diseases. Many people have died because of asbestos exposure.

The industrial use of asbestos was common in the past. It was used in hundreds of products, including insulation, pipes, building tiles, automobile parts, fabric, and cement. Although its use has been restricted over the last 50 years in the United States, it is still being used in some products and can still be found in older buildings.

How Does Asbestos Cause Cancer?

Asbestos is made up of fibers. When something that contains asbestos gets disturbed, tiny particles of fibers can be released into the air. In the past, when asbestos was being heavily used in industrial settings, workers were often exposed to clouds of asbestos dust.

When these tiny asbestos particles are suspended in the air, you can breathe them in. The particles can get trapped in your lungs and stay there. The more asbestos you inhale, and the more times you are exposed, the more it will build up in your lungs. Eventually, the fibers can cause inflammation and scarring in your lungs, which can lead to serious illness and problems breathing.

Asbestos fibers in the lungs can also damage the cells’ DNA. This is dangerous because your DNA controls how quickly your cells divide. When the DNA gets damaged, cell growth can get out of control. That can lead to cancer.

The two main types of cancer associated with asbestos exposure are mesothelioma and lung cancer. Exposure to asbestos may also increase the risk for other types of cancer.

Who Is Most At Risk of Getting Cancer From Asbestos Exposure?

Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos will get cancer or other asbestos-related diseases. The risks are usually highest for people who have been exposed to high concentrations of asbestos over a long period of time — typically, people who work directly with asbestos in their jobs or who are exposed to high levels of asbestos in their environment, such as people who live near asbestos mines. However, sometimes people who only have a brief exposure can get sick too.

Lifestyle factors can also influence how likely someone is to get seriously ill from asbestos exposure.

Cancer and other asbestos-related diseases do not occur right away. Symptoms may not appear until 10 to 40 years after the exposure to asbestos occurred.

Workplace Exposure to Asbestos

Asbestos exposure is a serious hazard in the workplace. It causes half of all job-related cancer deaths. Industries that may cause (or have caused in the past) the highest exposure to asbestos include shipbuilding, asbestos mining, manufacturing of products containing asbestos, working with insulation during building construction, demolition, removing asbestos or drywall, and firefighting.

Family Exposure to Asbestos

People who work with high concentrations of asbestos may get asbestos fibers on their clothes, shoes, hair, or skin. If they bring those fibers home with them, their family members may have an increased risk of getting asbestos-related diseases. Current regulations require workers to take steps to reduce this risk, such as showering and changing clothes before leaving the workplace.

9/11-Related Exposure to Asbestos

One of the towers in the World Trade Center contained asbestos. After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, hundreds of tons of asbestos from the collapsed building were released into the air. Many people who were at or near the site were exposed to potentially dangerous levels of asbestos.

The people at risk include firefighters, paramedics, police, construction workers, and volunteers who worked on the site rescue and clean up after the attack. People who lived nearby and students, teachers, and staff at nearby schools may also have received dangerous levels of asbestos exposure. Because asbestos-related illnesses may not appear until as long as 40 years after exposure, we still don’t know what the long-term effect of 9/11 asbestos exposure will turn out to be.

Lifestyle Risks for Asbestos-Related Disease

Smokers, heavy drinkers, and people who have unhealthy diets may be at higher risk of getting cancer or other asbestos-related diseases if they are exposed to asbestos. Smoking, in particular, is a significant known risk factor. People with pre-existing lung disease are also at higher risk.

Smokers who are exposed to asbestos have a risk of getting lung cancer that is higher than their risk from smoking and their risk from asbestos combined. People exposed to asbestos may be able to reduce their risk of getting lung cancer by quitting smoking.

Types of Asbestos Exposure

There are two main types of asbestos. The most common is chrysotile asbestos, also called white asbestos. Amphibole asbestos, sometimes called brown or blue asbestos, is less common, but more dangerous because it tends to stay in people’s lungs longer.

Contact an Experienced Asbestos Lawyer for a Free Consultation

If you have been exposed to asbestos, and you believe you may have an asbestos-related illness, including cancer, you should talk to an experienced asbestos attorney. If you file an asbestos claim, you may receive compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Proving that asbestos exposure caused an illness can be challenging because a long time may have passed between the time of exposure and the appearance of symptoms. For that reason, it’s important that your attorney has experience with asbestos claims.

The asbestos legal team at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer would be glad to talk to you. Our extensive experience in asbestos litigation includes getting a $25 million recovery for the Philadelphia School District.

The Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer law firm is included in many lists of top attorneys. We are dedicated to seeking justice for all of our clients, and we treat all our clients as individuals, not as cases. Call us at 1-800-535-1797 for a free, no-obligation consultation where we will evaluate your case and discuss what your options are for the future.

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