From the 1930s until the 1970s, all military branches relied heavily on asbestos and products that used the mineral, because of its excellent heat resistance, insulation, and fireproofing capabilities. Some of the asbestos-containing products that the military used included brakes, gaskets, valves, cement, adhesives, and pipe covering. In particular, the U.S. Navy used asbestos-containing materials in its shipyards and ships that were built at that time.
Lung spots are often detected incidentally, whether it's because of other lung problems or by chance during a routine exam, chest X-ray, or CT scan. Generally, a spot on the lung refers to a pulmonary nodule. Lung spots are small oval or round growths of tissue in the lung that appear as white stains on a chest X-ray or computer tomography scan.
Lung nodules usually cause no symptoms, which is why doctors almost always discover them accidentally during a chest X-ray or CT scan. If a patient experiences symptoms, they are likely due to the condition that led to the development of the lung spot/nodule:
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath
- Neck swelling
What Causes Lung Spots?
- Inflammation - Exposure to high concentrations of airborne asbestos over long periods can create non-cancerous problems in the lungs and chest. Such exposure also can cause scar tissue in the lungs that forms as a result of asbestos fibers penetrating the lung tissue and causing inflammation. When this process continues, then extensive scarring results. This may cause the condition asbestosis, a lung disease directly related to asbestos exposure. The fibrotic change within the lung tissue causes the lungs to become thickened and stiff and thus makes breathing more difficult. Unfortunately, patients with asbestosis have an increased chance of developing mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, and a variety of other malignancies.
- Benign tumors - Pulmonary spots are quite common, and most are benign. Among the most common cause of noncancerous lung spots/nodules are scars or marks from prior fungal infection or bacterial infection, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.
- Cancerous tumors - Malignant masses are often caused by lung cancer. Malignant pulmonary spots or nodules can result from lung cancer. Lung cancer is more likely in patients who smoked or still smoke cigarettes or handling asbestos in the past. Even if a nodule turns out to be lung cancer, it is likely to be early-stage lung cancer which has a better prognosis. Early diagnosis of lung cancer often allows for a higher likelihood of successful treatment.
- Metastases - Lung spots may also be due to metastases from other cancer such as esophageal cancer, colorectal cancer, throat cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, bladder cancer. Asbestos can be a factor in these types of cancer. When a lung spot is due to metastasis from another cancer, there are often multiple white-grey masses present.
What Are the Chances a Lung Spot Is an Early Lung Cancer?
Lung spots identified on a chest X-ray require additional evaluation to determine what they represent. There are many factors that radiologists and oncologists consider when estimating the chance that a nodule is cancer. The main risk factor is prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers. The risk of developing lung cancer associated with asbestos exposure and smoking is dramatically increased when these two risk factors are combined. Multiple studies provide strong evidence that asbestos exposure causes lung cancer through multiple mechanisms, including direct interaction with cellular chromosomes.
When a pulmonary spot is found, your doctor may want to find out more. A pulmonologist will monitor the lung spot with follow-up chest CT and:
- If the nodule does not grow over time, your doctor likely will diagnose it as benign
- If the nodule is 1/3 inch or bigger and there is moderate to high suspicion for lung cancer, your doctor will require further tissue biopsy
- If the nodule does grow over time, concern is for cancer and surgical removal would be recommended
Studies Over the Last 15 Years Using Early Detection Screening Have Been Shown to Reduce Lung Cancer Death by 16% to 20%
Lung screening has increased the detection rate of small pulmonary nodules and radiologists strive to detect all nodules that might have relevance to a cancer diagnosis.
- Chest X-rays show spots at least 1 cm or 1/3 inch in size
- Chest CT scans show spots less than 1 cm or less than 1/3 inch in size
See a GP if you have symptoms such as breathlessness or a persistent cough. Early detection can change the prognosis for patients with early-stage lung cancer. Let your medical provider know if you have had a chest X-ray or CT scan in the past so that he/she can check whether the lung spots were there before.
Navy Veterans Exposed to Asbestos Can Submit an Application for Financial Compensation
If you've served in the Navy and were exposed to asbestos during your enlistment, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs provides options for both health monitoring and treatment.
To be eligible to receive any of the benefits administered by the VA, you must first prove you were exposed to asbestos while under active duty and show a record of any medical treatments you've undergone or will have to undergo as a result of your subsequent asbestos-related condition. If you or someone you know was exposed to asbestos during active duty, we may be able to help. Call us today for a free conversation.