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Non-small Cell Lung Cancer and Asbestos

The most common form of lung cancer is non-small cell, comprising more than three-fourths of cases. This slow-moving condition can be divided into three types: large cell carcinomas in any part of the lung, adenocarcinomas in the outer area, and squamous cell carcinomas in the center. As with other asbestos-related conditions, the condition is caused when asbestos fibers are inhaled, becoming lodged in the lungs and dividing abnormally.

Asbestos Risk Factors

While the greatest risk factor of this type of lung cancer is tobacco use, non-small cell lung cancer is also linked to airborne carcinogens that have been inhaled. This includes asbestos. At one time, the mineral was prized because of its low cost, high-tensile strength and fire, chemical and electricity resistance. Among other applications, it was used in flooring, drywall, ceilings, insulation, brake pads, gaskets and engine parts and had especially pervasive use in shipbuilding and the military. Although its use in the United States was finally banned in 1989, asbestos remains in buildings constructed before then.

Symptoms of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer may not present symptoms until decades after exposure to asbestos. These symptoms include wheezing, persistent coughing, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, and weight loss. As the disease progresses, other symptoms may arise, such as bone and joint pain, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, weakness, nail problems, facial swelling, and eyelid drooping.

Diagnosing Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Diagnosis is not based on symptoms alone, given that they often point toward other, easily treatable conditions. Upon learning about a patient's history of asbestos exposure, a doctor will perform diagnostic tests. These tests include chest x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, bone scans, and other imaging tests. The doctor will also take a biopsy to determine the type of the cancer and decide on treatment options.



Treatment options for non-small cell lung cancer will typically follow a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. The prognosis and treatment effectiveness rely heavily on how early the cancer is detected as well as the overall health of the patient and the location of the cancer.


Because non-small cell cancer is so specific to each person, prognoses vary greatly depending on each diagnosis and situation. However, diagnosing the disease in Stage I or II has the greatest chance of survival. Treatment options are available for people whose conditions are found in later stages that may improve a patient's quality of life.

If you have been diagnosed, affected by any of the symptoms of non-small cell lung cancer, or exposed to asbestos, please contact us. We can connect you with experts who can help you explore your options.

Last Edited: Sun July 26, 2020