Prolonged Asbestos Exposure Associated With Development of Lung Nodules


In the early 1980s, when the health risks associated with asbestos became more widely known, the Navy finally stopped equipping new ships with asbestos-containing materials. However, decades of construction, demolition, repair, or renovation of ships exposed thousands of Navy personnel to the harmful effects of asbestos.

Asbestos breaks into microscopic fibers that can remain suspended in the air for hours. They can become stuck within tissues, and no known method exists to remove asbestos fibers from the lungs once they are inhaled. Very small particles of asbestos, such as those smaller than 0.1 ? in diameter, penetrate deep into the pulmonary system, reaching distal airways and the alveoli. Over time, these fibers cause lung scarring, making it progressively more difficult for the veteran to breathe since the scarred lung tissue does not expand and contract normally.

Lung Nodules Are Among the Early Signs of Possible Lung Cancer

A lung nodule is a small oval or round growth in the lung, often referred to as "spots" when described on an imaging test. Generally, lung nodules need to be at least 8 to 10 millimeters in size before they can be seen on a chest X-ray, whereas a CT scan can detect nodules as small as one or two mm in diameter. A nodule, by definition, is less than or equal to 3 cm (1.5 inches) in diameter. Lesions greater than 3 cm are referred to as lung masses.

The challenge in trying to identify pulmonary nodules before they become masses is that there are few symptoms to indicate a nodule might be present. The vast majority of pulmonary nodules are spotted incidentally on a chest X-ray or CT scan performed for other purposes. If any symptoms do appear, they tend to imitate characteristics common to respiratory infections like a chest cold or mild flu.

There are two types of pulmonary nodules: benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous). Cancerous nodules can be the first stage of primary lung cancer, brought on by smoking and/or heavy exposure to toxic substances like asbestos. Abundant asbestos use in the military has led to a 25 to 75 percent higher incidence of lung cancer among veterans, with Navy veterans considered the most at risk of developing cancer.

In order to diagnose pulmonary nodules, your doctor will:

  • Ask about your symptoms, do a physical examination, and review your medical history;
  • Ask whether you have been exposed to or breathed in harmful substances;
  • Look at your X-rays or CT scans to find out the location, shape, size, and number of nodules you have. Chest X-ray or computed tomography produces a series of detailed images of the lungs and nearby structures;
  • Order blood tests to find out if inflammation or an infection might be the cause;
  • A positron emission tomography (PET) scan and other studies will be done if needed;
  • If a lung nodule is considered highly suspicious for lung cancer based on its size, shape, and appearance on a chest X-ray or computed tomography scan, it will need to be biopsied to determine if it is cancerous.

Pulmonary Nodules Can Be Caused by a Variety of Factors, Including Exposure to Toxic Asbestos Fibers During Military Service

Navy veterans employed in various areas of ships and shipyards were exposed to asbestos in their everyday line of work. Although boiler and engine rooms typically had the highest concentrations of asbestos, no area aboard the ship was considered safe from asbestos fibers.

Exposure to asbestos causes no immediate ill effects or symptoms. There is generally a long period between asbestos exposure and the appearance of a disease; it takes more than 10 years for a pulmonary disease to develop. People who worked specific Navy jobs now suffer the long-term health effects of asbestos exposure:

  • shipbuilders
  • electricians
  • technicians
  • mechanics
  • engine operators
  • gunners
  • insulators
  • hull maintenance workers

Lung nodules are among the early signs of possible lung cancer, and both the U.S. government and the medical and research communities have recognized asbestos as a known carcinogen. If your lung nodule has been caused by asbestos exposure and develops into cancer, you may be eligible to file a claim for compensation for pain and suffering borne, alongside the current medical bills and future medical costs.

Veterans of the U.S. Navy diagnosed with cancer associated with working around asbestos can apply for compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition to their VA claims, veterans may also be eligible for monetary compensation from one or more of several trust funds created to pay victims of asbestos exposure by companies that negligently manufactured and used asbestos, including the U.S. Military.

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