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Asbestos Cancer Types

Exposure to asbestos can lead to a several types of serious illnesses, and it is important to know the differences.

Lung Cancer from Asbestos

Lung cancer from asbestos is a relatively common asbestos-related cancer, with between 10,000 to 15,000 diagnosed cases in the United States every year. Lung cancer develops in three places: in the bronchial tubes, the mucous glands, and the alveoli.

While it’s possible for lung cancer to develop from asbestos exposure alone, asbestos combined with tobacco use can greatly increase risk.

Lung Cancer Signs and Symptoms

  • A “smoker’s cough” that suddenly becomes more intense
  • A cough in a non-smoker with no known cause that lasts more than 2 weeks
  • Pain in the chest, back or shoulder that lasts for an extended period of time
  • A change in the volume or color or sputum
  • Blood in sputum
  • Wheezing, persistent pneumonia, and/or bronchitis, difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

Lung cancer can be difficult to diagnose, as only 5 to 10% of lung cancer patients demonstrate symptoms.

Although lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world, it is often misdiagnosed as “smoker’s cough”, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, and pneumonia. If you have any of the symptoms listed above and have been exposed to asbestos at any point, you may be at risk of lung cancer from asbestos.


Mesothelioma cancer is only caused by exposure to asbestos, and is far rarer than lung cancer from asbestos. There are only about 3,000 cases diagnosed in the US every year. Mesothelioma develops in the mesothelium, a delicate membrane that forms the lining of several body cavities, the pleura (thoracic cavity), peritoneum (abdominal cavity) and the pericardium (heart sac).

Mesothelioma Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of pleural mesothelioma (the most common type) are nearly identical to those of lung cancer, making misdiagnosis a frequent problem.

One of the more tragic aspects of mesothelioma cancer is that, upon diagnosis, there is usually not a long lifespan for most patients. Because it is largely incurable and often diagnosed in its later stages, many patients are lucky if they can survive with the disease for longer than one year.


Asbestosis is a breathing disorder caused by the prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers. It is not considered a form of cancer.

Once embedded in the tissue of the lungs, asbestos fibers cause severe inflammation that can lead to scarring, shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain. Asbestosis symptoms get worse as the disease progresses.

The severity of the disease depends on the length and intensity of the asbestos exposure. There is no known cure for asbestosis.