Cigarette smoking can lead to serious long-term lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer. But not all smokers develop a debilitating lung condition and not everyone who has one of the previously-mentioned conditions smokes. Most people interpret lung cancer as being self-inflicted by smoking and that the problem will eventually disappear when everyone gives up the unhealthy habit.
Because asbestos was especially prevalent in the Navy due to the mineral's extensive use in shipbuilding and ship repairs, it is not uncommon for U.S. Navy veterans to have been exposed to it during their service and develop lung cancer later in life.
Multiple Studies Have Highlighted the Significant Prevalence of Long-Term Lung Diseases Among Never Smokers
Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer deaths and a major health burden worldwide. People know that cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of lung cancer. Still, up to 15% of individuals diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked or used any other form of tobacco, according to LUNGevity. Once highly used for construction, insulation, and the many types of products due to its fire-resistant properties, asbestos is mostly responsible for this portion of lung cancer cases.
Asbestos-related lung cancer is usually diagnosed at a late stage due to the long latency period of development and delayed onset of symptoms. When products containing asbestos are disturbed, tiny microscopic fibers are released into the air. When the fibers are inhaled they can become trapped in the lungs, attaching themselves to the lung tissue, causing damage and scarring. Once the fibers have caused enough irritation, inflammation, and genetic damage, tumor formation begins. It can take between 10-40 years for lung cancer to develop.
The risk of developing lung cancer increases in proportion to the duration and intensity of exposure. Symptoms of asbestos lung cancer may include breathlessness, chest pain, sudden unexplained weight loss, coughing up blood, and fatigue. Immediate medical assistance should be sought in these circumstances and any known occupational asbestos exposure should be mentioned to your doctor.
Learn From Other Patients and Raise Awareness About the Prevalence of Pulmonary Asbestos-Related Diseases
Although I've never smoked a cigarette in my life, I was diagnosed with COPD in 2011 - the same year I was meant to retire from my job as a laborer at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia. It came on so gradually that I didn't even realize it. Due to the nature of my work, I faced an exceedingly high risk of asbestos exposure. Loading and unloading products containing asbestos or removing the debris produced by deteriorating asbestos materials were my daily responsibilities.
When I was eventually diagnosed, I saw my X-ray and wondered how on earth I was alive because my left lung seemed to hardly be there. Nowadays, I get breathless even if I just talk for a few minutes. Sometimes, I notice my voice when I talk; it goes husky and breaks, and my breathing sounds so bad that I can't believe it's me making that noise. I want more people to come forward to talk about lung cancer or other pulmonary issues, without talking about smoking-related causes. Why don't we hear about sailors or civilians who worked around asbestos and had no idea that they were exposed to toxic fibers capable of causing lethal lung diseases? Many people only vaguely understand why the toxic mineral is dangerous, so we need to know more about this and make people aware of their past asbestos exposure.
If You Served in the U.S. Navy between 1930 and 1980, You May Have Been Exposed to High Levels of Asbestos
The prevalence of lung cancer among lifetime never-smokers is very high, but few people, including many physicians, recognize the risk in people with no history of cigarette smoking. For Navy veterans who have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos, periodic chest radiographs and pulmonary function tests may detect asbestos-related diseases early.
If you, a fellow service member, or a loved one were exposed to asbestos while serving in the Navy, and have developed lung cancer, we can guide you toward the closest VA regional office or medical center so that you can benefit as soon as possible from the money or healthcare and treatment you deserve. Learn more about how and where you were exposed to asbestos and what legal compensation options you could be entitled to.