The Lungs: Asbestos, Smoking, and Mesothelioma

The Lungs: Asbestos, Smoking, and Mesothelioma

Scientists in Japan published a study about how asbestos fibers interact with the lungs when they are inhaled by someone.

This study, published in Particle and Fibre Toxicology, explored “asbestos ferruginous bodies” (AFBs). When asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs, the body forms an iron-rich coat around the fibers. These coated asbestos fibers become AFBs.

Mesothelioma after Asbestos Exposure

When people inhale asbestos fibers, they can develop an aggressive cancer called malignant pleural mesothelioma. This cancer grows in the lining of the lungs and chest wall.

It can often take around 40 years for malignant pleural mesothelioma to begin to grow after asbestos exposure. Imaging studies such as X-rays or CT scans may help in the diagnosis, but the disease is usually confirmed by a tissue biopsy.

Treatment for malignant pleural mesothelioma can include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. These therapies can be uncomfortable for patients, and the prognosis is usually poor.

Asbestos and Smokers

The scientists in this study wanted to take a closer look at AFBs in smokers and find out how they might be affected by smoking. They looked at cross-sections of AFBs from two smokers and two non-smokers.

The study revealed that the AFBs had layers made of a substance called ferrihydrite. The scientists also found small round features on the AFBs that might be formed when the body tries to destroy AFBs but can’t.

The smokers in the study had smaller and denser AFBs compared to the non-smokers. Scientists think that is because the AFBs are affected by the different conditions of the lungs. The iron content in cigarette smoke might also be responsible for the higher iron content of the AFBs in smokers.

The scientists believe that smoking may have an affect on how malignant pleural mesothelioma develops in the lungs. This should be studied more so that doctors can provide better treatment options to mesothelioma patients who also smoke.


Avramescu ML, Potiszil C, Kunihiro T, Okabe K, Nakamura E. An investigation of the internal morphology of asbestos ferruginous bodies: constraining their role in the onset of malignant mesothelioma. Part Fibre Toxicol. 2023;20(1):19. Published 2023 May 8. doi:10.1186/s12989-023-00522-0. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10165766/

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