Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. The sharp needle-like asbestos fibers can lodge inside the lungs and cause scarring. This scarring can, over time, severely damage the lungs. Because of this, symptoms do not typically manifest themselves until years after asbestos exposure.
The primary symptoms of asbestosis are shortness of breath and lack of energy. Other symptoms include dry crackly inhalation, clubbing of the fingers. Finger clubbing which may look like bulging of the end of the fingers and misshapen nails is caused by a lack of oxygenated blood flow to the extremities. Fibrosis (the thickening and scarring of connective tissue) is usually present in the lower lobes of the lungs. Patients may also present with loss of appetite with weight loss and chest pain or tightness.
Asbestosis Treatment and Prognosis
Unfortunately, there is no treatment that can reverse the damage caused by asbestos. Because smoking speeds up the disease you will be urged to stop smoking. Oxygen may be provided and you may be prescribed pulmonary rehabilitation, an exercise program designed to help all patients with chronic lung conditions. In extreme cases, a lung transplant may be recommended.
Asbestos Lung Cancer
Although lung cancer is primarily associated with smoking, it can also be caused by asbestos. In fact, the connection between asbestos and lung cancer was made as early as the 1930’s and 1940’s. Like mesothelioma, the latency period (the time from asbestos exposure to disease) can take decades. It is believed that the length of the asbestos fibers may play a role in whether mesothelioma or lung cancer is eventually diagnosed. How the fibers actually cause disease are also similar between mesothelioma and lung cancer. Scientists believe that asbestos sets the stage for chronic inflammation which leads to cellular and DNA damage which can in turn lead to cancer.
People at risk for asbestos caused lung cancer are those who worked in industries where there was heavy asbestos exposure. These industries included:
- Insulation installer
- Auto mechanics
- Construction workers
- Ship building
- Power plants
Types of Asbestos Related Lung Cancer
There are two primary types of asbestos related lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.
Small-Cell Lung Cancer
Small-cell lung cancer is also called “oat-cell carcinoma”. It is a type of highly malignant cancer that most commonly arises within the lungs. Compared to non-small cell carcinoma, small cell carcinoma grows and metastasizes more quickly.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is further divided into three subtypes:
1. Adenocarcinoma starts in cells in your air sacs called alveoli. It is the most common kind of lung cancer among both smokers and nonsmokers. It often grows more slowly than other lung cancers.
2. Squamous cell (epidermoid) carcinoma starts in cells that line the inner airways of the lungs.
3. Large cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma grows and spreads more quickly.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms for both types of lung cancer may include:
- Chronic coughing
- Chest pain
- Hoarseness or voice changes
- Harsh sounds when you breathe
- Weight loss, little appetite
- Coughing up blood or mucus
- Shortness of breath
Lung cancer prognosis depends on stage. If the cancer is diagnosed early before it has moved into other tissues, lymph nodes, or more distant sites, then standard treatments are more effective.