Asbestos Exposure, Asbestosis, and Smoking and Their Interactions to Lung Cancer Risk


Between World War II and the late-1970s, the US Navy was one of the largest consumers of asbestos-containing products. This meant that many service members were constantly being exposed to hazardous fibers.

Once they are inhaled or ingested, these fibers can become trapped in the lung tissue causing irritation, inflammation, and genetic damage. Asbestos fibers can lie dormant in the lungs for up to 50 years before manifesting into a diagnosable condition.

Today, the use of asbestos is limited by state and federal regulations because of well-known adverse health effects. Apart from the carcinogenic effect, exposure to asbestos dust can cause various benign changes in the lung - asbestosis - and the pleura - pleural plaques and diffuse pleural thickening.

Asbestosis Is Incurable, and Complications Can Include Lung Cancer, Pleural Abnormalities, and Malignant Mesothelioma

Inhaled asbestos fibers penetrate the lining of the lungs; they get caught and lodged in the lining, sometimes tearing it as the lungs are trying to push them out. Over time, the asbestos fibers aggravate the lung tissue enough for cell mutation to occur and for the tumor to form.

Most doctors don't consider asbestosis when treating a patient with shortness of breath, dry cough, or chest pain, especially if these occur during flu season or if the patient has been, or is a current cigarette & tobacco smoker. Someone already diagnosed with asbestosis is more susceptible to pulmonary complications, including bronchogenic carcinoma, and malignant pleural mesothelioma.

In individuals with a history of asbestos exposure, doctors can diagnose asbestosis with a chest X-ray or high-resolution computed tomography (CT) of the chest that shows characteristic changes. Features on chest radiographs include irregular opacities with a fine reticular pattern and ill-defined diaphragmatic contours. Honeycombing (coarse reticular pattern) and lower lobe volume loss can occur in the advanced stage of the disease. Asbestos-related scar formation is irreversible. Scarring may slowly progress even after asbestos exposure ceases since some asbestos fibers remain in the lung even though exposure from the outside stops.

Nonetheless, chest X-ray is important in the diagnosis of asbestosis, because it can document the presence of pleural plaques (benign areas of thickened tissue that form in the pleura, or lining of the lung) as a marker of asbestos exposure, and allows identification of the presence and extent of other complications such as lung cancer.

When Coupled With Asbestos Exposure, Smoking Significantly Increases the Risk of Lung Cancer

Cigarette smoke inhalation causes severe damage to the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system, and can eventually lead to cancer, and when coupled with asbestos exposure, smoking can greatly increase the risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer. Smoking can weaken lung tissue, thereby creating an environment where asbestos fibers can become more easily trapped and embedded.

"My father served as a Fireman First Class aboard the light cruiser, USS Flint (CL-97) from 1942 - 1945. He passed away in 1986 from lung cancer. None of the information about his asbestos exposure was known at the time of his diagnosis and his condition was all attributed to his tobacco use. Of course, tobacco was a big contributor, but I'm sure his asbestos exposure was as well. It would have been wonderful if he and my mother had had the VA's help in battling the medical bills", said the family member of a veteran exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. Navy.

Receiving an Accurate Diagnosis Can Improve Your Life Expectancy, but Also Gives You the Right to Be Entitled to Compensation

During the time period when asbestos was used most heavily, the military bought the mineral from manufacturers who were aware of its dangers but did not release information about the mineral's toxicity. Therefore, thousands of Navy veterans were unknowingly exposed to the harmful effects of asbestos, leading to thousands of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diagnoses years after they returned home. For many of them, getting the care and support they need and deserve is a high priority. Medical bills can add up fast, and many veterans are unable to pay for expensive new diagnostic tests and treatments. An experienced lawyer can help guide veterans through the process of filing a claim to receive compensation for medical bills, wages lost due to time off at work, pain, and suffering, and more.

If you are a Navy veteran and if you experience the following symptoms, we strongly advise you to seek medical attention from a VA doctor or a civilian doctor, as it is crucial when dealing with asbestos-related symptoms to accurately get diagnosed and get proper treatment:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • persistent coughing
  • wheezing
  • fatigue
  • abdominal pain or swelling
  • unexplained weight loss

To qualify for disability benefits, a veteran must show that he/she has been diagnosed with a cancerous disease that was caused by asbestos exposure and must make the case that active duty was likely the cause of the disease.

In the regrettable event that you are suffering from an asbestos-related malignant disease, please call us at 760.621.6147, and we will put you in touch with experienced attorneys that can help you get the compensation you deserve for your pain and suffering.

Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. is a law firm based in Birmingham, AL, committed to providing high-quality legal services to veterans exposed to toxic substances while serving on active duty. They provide free medical screening for possible long-term health problems related to asbestos, thus, veterans who have been diagnosed with a non-cancerous condition such as asbestosis, and want to access a free confirmatory asbestos screening procedure can travel to their Birmingham, Alabama location for medical screening which may involve pulmonary function tests, X-rays, and CT scans. Receiving an accurate diagnosis can ensure you gain access to a more significant number of available treatment options but also gives you the right to be entitled to compensation if you have developed an asbestos cancer.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

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