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Asbestos-related lung cancer aids in killing 15,000 Americans each year

As the number two cause of death for adults in the United States, cancer remains a very real threat for many. An average 1,600 Americans die each day from cancer with almost two million new cases diagnosed each year. Statistics show one in two men and one in three females will develop cancer during their lifetime.

The science of determining why someone gets cancer and another does not is incomplete. Genetic defects play a minor role, causing between five and 10 percent of all cancers. The other 90 to 95 percent are caused by genetic changes, environmental exposure and lifestyle. Certain risk factors, like smoking, are known given the risks they carry.

Lung cancer is a primary example. As the most dangerous cancer for both men and women, lung cancer kills more than 150,000 people each year. Smoking and tobacco use are the immediate suspects of cause, given the high levels of carcinogens in cigarettes, but there’s another risk factor that when combined with smoking increases the likelihood of lung cancer by 50 to 90 times.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found all over the world. Its resistance to heat and its easily weaved fibers made it an appealing product to use for thousands of years, tracing back to ancient Greece. Mined for its ‘miracle’ properties, asbestos exposure led to serious health problems that were widely ignored until 50 years ago when the true dangers were finally made public.

While asbestos exposure is connected to many cancers, it is most commonly associated with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs. Taking several decades to develop, the symptoms typically present themselves when the cancer has progressed to Stage 4, leaving less than one-year survival periods after diagnosis.

Similarly, asbestos exposure causes lung cancer that takes decades to appear. Up to 8,500 lung cancer cases that are diagnosed each year are caused by exposure to asbestos. Often, the disease begins as asbestosis, a lung tissue scarring attributed to asbestos exposure, leaving one in every seven to develop lung cancer.

Together, smoking and asbestos have a synergistic effect, meaning together they can cause lung cancer at rates neither can produce alone. For example, a heavy smoker has a 10 fold increased risk of developing lung cancer and a non-smoking asbestos-exposed worker has a five fold increase. Those two combined lead to a 50 to 90 fold increase. Asbestos-related diseases kill up to 15,000 people each year.

If you were diagnosed with lung cancer, it’s important to know all the risk factors. Often, the investigation stops at a smoking history, but that won’t keep you from the compensation you deserve if you were exposed to asbestos. If you have questions about the connection between your lung cancer diagnosis and asbestos exposure, contact us immediately.


  • Formuzis, “New estimate finds asbestos kills 12,000 to 15,000 Americans a year,” Asbestos Nation (May 13, 2015). [Link]
  • Unity Point, “Top five most dangerous cancers in men and women,” (July 7, 2014). [Link]