Asbestos was once used widely in building and shipping materials– insulation, roofing, ceiling and floor tiles, paper, cement products. It was also used in other consumer products such as coatings, textiles, and electrical products and in transportation – cars, ships, trains, and planes.
Asbestos fibers are so tiny they cannot be seen with the naked eye and have no taste or smell. If you breathe a lot of asbestos dust or fibers or breathe it for an extended period of time, it can cause scarring of lung tissues, called asbestosis. Asbestos also contributes to inflammation (swelling) and fibrosis, which increases the risk of cancer. Fibrosis is a thickening and scarring of connective tissue.
Symptoms of asbestosis include coughing, trouble breathing, and chest pain. The pain comes from scarring and permanent lung damage, according to the National Cancer Institute. Breathing asbestos dust can lead to other lung problems, including mesothelioma, which is cancer in the lining of the lungs, chest, or stomach area.
Asbestosis and smoking are deadly combinations. About one in seven people with asbestosis develop lung cancer. The lung cancer risk for a smoker, who has also been exposed to asbestos, is higher than the risk of smoking and inhaling asbestos combined.
People exposed to asbestos and smoke tobacco are 50 to 100 times more likely to develop lung cancer.
Some of the asbestos fibers you breathe in can be exhaled, but others stay in your lungs for the rest of your life. If you’re a tobacco smoker, here’s why asbestosis so dramatically increases your risk of lung cancer. Tobacco smokers have:
- Weakened lungs that cannot exhale asbestos fibers
- Irritated air passages that produce more mucus
- Lungs with too much mucus that block the passage of air
- Extra mucus decreases the lungs’ ability to exhale asbestos fibers and dust
The rate of lung cancer increases with the amount you smoke and the number of years you smoke. It’s more dangerous if you start smoking at a younger age. Cancer risk also increases with the type and size of asbestos fibers you inhale.