Asbestos is a broad term used to describe the many different types of asbestos. These minerals are extremely toxic to the human body and have been linked to many types of cancer. The most common type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure is lung cancer, while less common cases report diagnoses of mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, and laryngeal (throat) cancer.
The types of cancer caused by asbestos exposure vary in their symptoms, severity and treatment. Patients often wonder which cancer is considered worse: lung cancer or mesothelioma? Lung cancer is a common disease with many accessible treatment options, while mesothelioma is an extremely rare cancer with limited treatment options. Ovarian cancer and laryngeal cancer can both have varying prognoses depending on the diagnosis and status of tumors, but the prognosis for both cancers is often positive.
Asbestos is an extremely dangerous mineral. According to OSHA, no amount of asbestos exposure is safe. When you’re in the presence of asbestos, the risk of exposure is high. Asbestos is a durable mineral and resistant to heat, but it is extremely fragile and can become powdery or flakey if touched. If asbestos dust is in the air, it can infiltrate the body in many different ways, causing the development of cancer.
Lung Cancer Caused By Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos lung cancer is a malignancy of the lungs formed due to asbestos exposure. The toxic dust produced by the mineral can be easily inhaled, leading to irritation of the lung tissue. This irritation causes cells to mutate and form a tumor, which can grow and spread to other parts of the body.
There are two types of lung cancer: non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small-cell lung cancer (SCLC). Most people are diagnosed with NSCLC.
Asbestos exposure causes an estimated 7,000-11,000 new cases of lung cancer in the United States each year. Lung cancer caused by asbestos has no medical difference from lung cancer caused by tobacco or genetics. The only difference is the root cause of the lung cancer. Lung cancer from asbestos treatment options are the same as lung cancer caused by other cancer-causing elements.
Lung cancer is a relatively common cancer with nearly 240,000 new cases diagnosed this year. Due to the commonality of lung cancer, there is often a decent chance at treating the cancer and shrinking the tumors. The earlier the cancer is detected, the better chance the patient has at successful treatment and even entering remission.
The best chance a patient has at receiving successful treatment or entering remission is by participating in routine lung cancer screenings, especially if you’re at high-risk for this type of cancer. By taking part in annual lung cancer screenings, you increase your chances of early diagnosis.
Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is an extremely rare and aggressive type of cancer with less than 3,000 diagnoses in the U.S. each year. The only cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Malignant mesothelioma forms when the sharp asbestos fibers are inhaled (breathed) or ingested (swallowed). The needle-like fibers can become lodged in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart and irritate tissue, causing infection and the development of mesothelioma.
There are three different types of mesothelioma, each affecting different organs and presenting varying symptoms.
Pleural mesothelioma forms in the pleura, the lining of the lungs and chest cavity. This type of mesothelioma is most commonly diagnosed out of the three types, responsible for nearly 80% of all mesothelioma cases. Symptoms associated with pleural mesothelioma often include shortness of breath, chest or lower back pain, unexplained weight loss, pleural fluid buildup (effusions), face or arm swelling, sweating, hoarseness or trouble swallowing.
Peritoneal mesothelioma forms in the peritoneum, the sheet-like membrane surrounding the abdominal cavity. This type of mesothelioma can occur when asbestos fibers are ingested, or swallowed, and get stuck in the abdominal lining. Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma may experience abdominal pain, constipation, bowel issues, nausea, vomiting, fever or sweating. Peritoneal mesothelioma is far less common than pleural mesothelioma, but not as rare as the third type of mesothelioma.
Pericardial mesothelioma is the rarest type of mesothelioma. It is so rare that researchers are still investigating exactly how asbestos fibers can infect the pericardium, the membrane encapsulating the heart. Pericardial mesothelioma accounts for not even 1% of all mesothelioma cases. Since the tumor forms very near to the heart, treatment options are limited. Most specialists opt for some form of therapy. Symptoms associated with pericardial mesothelioma can be chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, irregular heartbeat or heart murmurs.
All three types of mesothelioma are considered very rare cancers and difficult to diagnose. The rarity of mesothelioma contributes to the many difficulties patients and doctors face. Mesothelioma has a very long latency period, which means symptoms may not present themselves for up to 50 years. Because of this long latency period and lack of severe symptoms, it is very difficult to diagnose mesothelioma at all, let alone at an early stage.
Asbestos and Ovarian Cancer
Asbestos has been linked to ovarian cancer in recent years. Most reports of ovarian cancer caused by asbestos have been connected to Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder or other talc-based products. J&J has faced years of asbestos litigation for its asbestos-contaminated baby powder.
Talc is a natural mineral often crushed into a white powder to produce talcum powder-based products. When talc is mined, it is often done so near asbestos, meaning the two crumbly minerals can intertwine with each other and cause contamination of talc products. The asbestos fibers are microscopic, so it is impossible to know if the mined talc is pure or contaminated. Talc samples must be tested by scientific labs to know the purity.
The target audience for talcum products, like J&J Baby Powder, is very broad and can include anyone, but most products were strategically marketed towards women and children. Due to the targeting of women with talcum powder products, many women have reported ovarian cancer diagnoses and attribute their cancers to talcum powder products, such as Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder. But how exactly can asbestos-contaminated talc cause ovarian cancer?
When talcum powder is applied to the groin area, it can absorb moisture and help prevent chafing. If the talc product contains asbestos, the cancer-causing fibers can potentially enter the reproductive tract and travel to the ovaries. If the toxic particles enter the reproductive tract, it can take years to dissolve, causing inflammation and the development of ovarian cancer.
The connection between talc and ovarian cancer is something everyone should be aware of. What was once considered a safe cosmetic powder for women and babies, is now linked to cancer.
Laryngeal Cancer Linked to Asbestos Exposure
Laryngeal cancer is a malignancy of the tissues in the larynx. The larynx is part of the throat in between the base of the tongue and trachea, encapsulated by cartilage. It holds the vocal cords, responsible for producing the sound of a person’s voice, maintaining an open breathing passage, and closing the airway during swallowing to prevent accidental breathing in of food or fluid into the lungs.
Early stages of laryngeal cancer can present few or no symptoms. Moderate or advanced laryngeal cancer symptoms can include difficulty or painful swallowing, sore throat, ear pain, difficulty breathing, loud breathing, severe hoarseness, coughing up blood, change in the sound of the voice, or a lump in the neck or throat.
Treatment options for laryngeal cancer are dependent upon the stage of the cancer and the patient’s health condition. Standard treatment options can be radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. If laryngeal cancer goes untreated, the cancer cells can spread to nearby organs or tissues, such as the thyroid, trachea, esophagus, lymph nodes in the neck, the carotid artery, the upper part of the spine, or chest.
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, there are also correlations between asbestos exposure and laryngeal cancer. The cases showing increased risk for laryngeal cancer had been exposed to asbestos at work across a wide array of industries. The study concluded that occupational asbestos exposure increased the risk, almost double, for a laryngeal cancer diagnosis than those who had not been exposed to asbestos at all. However, asbestos exposure does not pose as significant a risk as combined smoking and drinking.
Asbestos is an extremely dangerous mineral. The consequences of exposure to asbestos can be deadly. Spreading awareness of the risks associated with this toxic mineral is the only way to protect the public. Most cases of cancer caused by asbestos exposure occur due to occupational exposure. Although there are many regulations in place preventing the use of asbestos today, asbestos exposure has affected countless hard-working people.
If you or someone you know worked in an asbestos environment, contact Registered Nurse Karen Ritter. She can help answer any of your asbestos health-related questions.
Sources & Author
Asbestos. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/asbestos#:~:text=Which%20cancers%20are%20associated%20with,lung%2C%20larynx%2C%20and%20ovary.. Accessed: 09/12/22.
Talcum Powder and Cancer. American Cancer Society. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/healthy/cancer-causes/chemicals/talcum-powder-and-cancer.html#:~:text=Studies%20in%20people-,Ovarian%20cancer,fallopian%20tubes%20to%20the%20ovary. Accessed: 09/13/22.
Laryngeal Cancer and Asbestos. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20323/. Accessed: 09/14/22.
Laryngeal Cancer. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/laryngeal-cancer. Accessed: 09/14/22
Laryngeal Cancer Treatment. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/patient/adult/laryngeal-treatment-pdq#:~:text=Laryngeal%20cancer%20is%20a%20disease,sore%20throat%20and%20ear%20pain.. Accessed: 09/14/22.
Sources & Author