Asbestos Exposure: Cancer, Causes, Symptoms and Health Risks

Asbestos is a known carcinogen that’s causally linked to deadly diseases such as mesothelioma or lung cancer. People who have experienced asbestos exposure in severe or repeated situations are at a heightened risk of developing symptoms and diseases like lung cancer, mesothelioma or asbestosis. Workers in industries in which asbestos products and materials were widely used face the greatest asbestos exposure risks.

Why is Asbestos Exposure So Dangerous?

Asbestos is a broad term that includes a group of six separate naturally occurring minerals. Through processing, fibers are derived from asbestos minerals, which are then woven into dense threads. Due to its flame-resistant properties and its inability to conduct electricity, asbestos was a common additive in widely used products for nearly 100 years.

In construction, asbestos products have been used for insulation and fireproofing, among other uses, and asbestos products have been widely used in shipbuilding to insulate pipes and boilers. Many construction materials like floor and ceiling tiles, paints and drywall coating also contain asbestos.

Unfortunately, asbestos fibers – which create microscopic dust clouds when disturbed – are highly toxic when inhaled or ingested by humans. Therefore, workers in industries in which asbestos products were widely used including shipbuilding, manufacturing, automotive repair, and railroading are at a heightened risk for asbestos exposure and related illnesses.

Although federally mandated asbestos exposure limits have been in place since the 1970s and 1980s, millions have been exposed to asbestos since the link was first discovered. Today, asbestos-related illnesses cause more than 10,000 deaths per year in the U.S.

Asbestos Exposure Risk Factors

asbestos exposure safety mask goggles
When asbestos is disturbed, microscopic dust particles are distributed in the air. These particles can linger in the area for several hours or even days, increasing the risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos exposure can cause severe health problems based on the type of exposure and its severity. According to, risk factors for developing health problems include:

  • Amount of asbestos victim was exposed to
  • Duration of the exposure
  • The chemical makeup of the asbestos

One of the greatest risk factors for developing an asbestos-related disease is the way in which the individual was exposed. In general, an individual can ingest or be exposed to asbestos dust in three ways.

  • Inhaling asbestos – is the most common and dangerous type of exposure. Inhalation has a strong correlation with diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma. Prolonged inhalation of asbestos dust has been shown to increase an individual’s likelihood of developing an asbestos-related illness.
  • Swallowing asbestos – can also cause adverse health issues, but the potential risks are less understood. It’s widely believed that swallowing asbestos is linked with peritoneal mesothelioma, which is cancer that forms in the stomach lining.
  • Touching asbestos – is not known to lead to cancers. But when asbestos fibers make skin contact, individuals may experience skin growths known as asbestos warts, which form over asbestos fibers on the skin.

Secondary exposure happens when asbestos fibers are passed from a primary exposure victim to another individual. For example, a primary exposure victim may return from the job site with asbestos fibers on their clothing; a family member who helped wash the work clothes could then potentially be exposed.

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Asbestos Exposure Symptoms

Once asbestos fibers are ingested, they begin to accumulate in the lung tissue, where they begin to cause a number of serious health impacts. First, asbestos fibers cause chronic inflammation of the lung tissue, as well as cell death. Asbestos fibers can also break down and become smaller over time, and eventually, the fibers become so small that they interfere with mitosis, the natural division of cells.

Over time, both of these factors are the likely cause of cancerous tissue growth, leading to the growth of tumors. Asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma develop over long periods of time, which is called their latency period.

For mesothelioma, the disease develops over a period of 10 to 50 years, and thusly, people who were exposed decades before may only begin to experience symptoms later in life. The most common asbestos diseases share similar respiratory symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry cough
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain or discomfort in the chest

Asbestos has been known to cause multiple types of cancer, with mesothelioma and lung cancer being the most predominant.

Asbestos Exposure Health Risks

In the U.S., more than 2,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and more than 200,000 individuals suffer from asbestosis, according to estimates. Cancers caused by asbestos include:


Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the mesothelium tissue in the lung and stomach lining. Asbestos exposure has been strongly connected to a severe increase in the risk of developing mesothelioma. There are multiple types of mesothelioma based on the organ affected. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common and affects tissue near the lungs.

Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is another common outcome of severe or repeated asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers can become trapped in lung tissues, leading to prolonged inflammation, scarring and the eventual growth of tumorous cells.

Other Asbestos Cancers

In addition to lung cancer and mesothelioma, asbestos can potentially cause other forms of cancer that include esophageal, stomach, colon and rectal cancer. Like lung cancer, these may be due to repeat exposure risks and can also take decades to develop.

Who Is at Greatest Risk for Asbestos Exposure?

Until the early 1970s, no workplace exposure limits were established in the U.S. During this period, workers in a variety of industries were widely exposed to toxic asbestos fibers. Proper safety precautions were often not followed in these industries, and as a result, workers were much more likely to experience long-term exposure.

Industries known to be at the greatest risk for asbestos exposure include:

  • Shipyard workers
  • U.S. Navy Veterans
  • Miners
  • Construction professionals
  • Electricians
  • Boiler operators
  • Railroad workers
  • Automotive mechanics

Additionally, individuals who lived near large-scale asbestos mining operations are at a heightened risk for environmental asbestos exposure. For example, in Libby, MT, the site of one of the largest asbestos mines in the U.S., residents have long battled asbestos illnesses due to their proximity to the mine.

Should You File a Lawsuit?

We are dedicated to helping people learn about the potential dangers of asbestos exposure and supporting those whose lives have been affected by asbestos-related illnesses.

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Contact Asbestos Exposure Lawyers

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer and has a history of asbestos exposure, contact MesoWatch today. Get immediate financial assistance and access asbestos bankruptcy trust funds. Every asbestos case is unique and getting connected with the right lawyers for mesothelioma is a crucial factor when filing an asbestos lawsuit. Our legal team will use their knowledge and experience to quickly identify all potentially liable parties and pursue the maximum possible financial compensation.