Nowadays, asbestos exposure – along with a series of other risk factors such as radon gas inhalation and passive smoking – is officially a cause of lung cancer. When it is the result of asbestos exposure, lung cancer develops similarly to mesothelioma, another form of cancer which affects the lungs. Once asbestos fibers enter the respiratory tract, they can become embedded in tissue very easily due to their rough texture. Since the human body cannot naturally eliminate asbestos, a considerable portion of fibers will remain in the lungs, where inflammation and tissue scarring may gradually occur over the years. Depending on how severe asbestos exposure was, these symptoms can give way to the onset of lung cancer at some point.
It is worthy of note that while mesothelioma tumors grow on the outer lining of the lungs, lung cancer develops inside one or both organs. Although mesothelioma and lung cancer have asbestos exposure as a common cause, they are completely different diseases and each of them requires a distinct treatment approach.
Even though this is not a certainty, some studies suggest that the size of the asbestos fibers a person inhaled can determine whether they will develop mesothelioma or lung cancer. Accordingly, fibers with a length of 3 millimeters were found more likely to attach themselves to the lining of the lungs, whereas those measuring 5 millimeters had a tendency to become embedded in lung tissue per se. Thus, shorter asbestos fibers were associated with a higher risk of mesothelioma, while longer ones were linked to lung cancer.