Asbestos and the risk of cancer:
What is Asbestos:
Asbestos is a combination of six naturally occurring silicate minerals. The composition of Asbestos contains long and thin fibrous crystals and each fiber contains many microscopic fibrils. These minerals can be pulled apart into flexible fibers. By chemical terms, the minerals of asbestos are silicate compounds and their molecular structure contains silicon and oxygen. Asbestos is resistant to heat, fire, and many other chemicals. It works as a great electrical insulator. For these reasons asbestos used to be widely used in many industries.
There are two major types of asbestos minerals available.
- Serpentine Group:
Serpentine asbestos contains chrysotile, commonly known as white asbestos and it is the only asbestos mineral in the serpentine group. Chrysotile has long and curly fibers that can be woven. This kind of asbestos is the most commonly used in commercial applications, such as industrial and marine gaskets, plasters, floor tiles, and sheeting, etc.
- Amphibole Group:
Amphibole asbestos contains amosite, commonly known as brown asbestos and crocidolite, commonly known as blue asbestos. This kind of asbestos contains straight line, needle-like fibers. This asbestos was very popular in the early 80s and major commercial use of this asbestos was low-density insulating board, ceiling tiles, asbestos cement sheets, etc.
Exposure to asbestos fiber can lead to deadly diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and pleural thickening. In this article, we will take a look at how asbestos can increase the risk of cancer.
Almost everyone is exposed to it at some point during their lifetime. Very low levels of asbestos are present in the air, water, and soil. But people who are working in certain industries are much riskier than others. People who are exposed to it on a regular basis, they work directly with the material. Industries like -
- Asbestos mining, manufacturing.
- Building demolition
- Painter and decorator
- Merchant seaman
Factors affecting the risk of cancer:
Every form of asbestos is considered highly risky and unsafe. Different types of asbestos can cause different types of health issues. The result of several studies showed that the chrysotile group is more harmful than an amphibole group when it comes to boost cancer risk.
Here are some factors which will help you to determine how exposure to asbestos can affect you as an individual.
- Source of exposure.
- How much asbestos an individual was exposed to.
- Duration of exposure.
- Individual risk factors.
- Pre-existing lung disease
- size, shape, and the chemical compound of the asbestos fiber.
How does asbestos cause cancer:
Asbestos is a unique silicate mineral that can be pulled into a flexible fiber. When an individual inhales or get exposed to microscopic fibers of asbestos, their body cannot throw them out. Over the years, it can cause genetic changes and inflammation that can lead to cancer.
Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma patients all over the world. Mesothelioma is a kind of lung cancer caused by the long time exposer of asbestos.
Asbestos exposer can cause mainly two types of cancer:
- Lung cancer
Symptoms of asbestos-related cancer:
Individuals who have been exposed to asbestos for a long period, they need regular medical screening. Symptoms of asbestos-related cancer may not be evident for many years after the exposure. It is important if the following symptoms are developed:
- Shortness of breath, hoarseness or change of voice.
- Pain in the chest.
- Blood in sputum coughed up from the lungs.
- Loss of apatite.
- Weight loss
- Fatigue or anemia.
Asbestos and mesothelioma:
Mesothelioma is a fast-spreading cancer that always occurs by exposure to asbestos. The study proves that 75% of mesothelioma cases are related to asbestos exposure and from the time to expose it can take 15 to 50 years for symptoms to appear. Mesothelioma develops when the tiny asbestos fiber associate themselves into the lining of the lung called pleura. When the body can not able to expel the fibers, it starts to build mesothelium to wrap the fibers to protect the body from intruder particles. This process is known as phagocytosis. This function act as an immune system but also bacteria and dead cells.
When the DNA in the cells starts to alter with asbestos fibers and it causes genetic mutation and the healthy cells become cancerous. Most mesothelioma cases start to begin at least 15-50 years after exposure. The asbestos fiber in the lung cell can cause inflammation and the inflammation can cause chest pain. The process called phagocytosis can create scar tissues which led to difficulty in breathing. Mesothelioma can develop in the chest wall, the lining of the abdomen, the membranes of the heart or even in the reproduction system.
The symptoms can be:
- Dyspnea or shortness of breath.
- Weight loss
- Pain in the center of the chest.
- Persistent and dry cough.
Asbestos and lung cancer:
Exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers and non- smokers. People who are exposed to asbestos and tend to smoke are at high risk of developing this kind of disease. The lung cancer caused by asbestos is not the same as mesothelioma but the cause of the cancer is the same and the cancer cell build-up process as well.
About 4% of all lung cancer can be caused by asbestos. Mesothelioma and lung cancer both can develop in the lining of the lung, not in the lung. This disease can take many years to develop but only a month to spread.
Smoking weakens the cilia which cleans the lung when asbestos fibers enter the lung weak cilia cannot flush out the fibers completely.
There are three types of non-small cell lung cancer can develop:
- Squamous cell carcinoma:
In this case, the large bronchi and squamous cells get affected.
This case is most common in women and non-smokers. But in this case, the outer region of the lung gets affected.
- Large cell carcinoma:
In this case, it mostly affects the larger cells in the outer region of the lung.
Lung cancer associated with smoking or exposure to asbestos the symptoms are in both cases.
Symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, cough in blood, nausea, appetite loss can be the common symptoms.
Cancers that are positively associated with asbestos exposure:
Laryngeal cancer, ovarian cancer, stomach and colon cancer can be positively associated with asbestos exposure.