How Asbestos Causes Cancer
Workers Exposed to Asbestos
Mesothelioma typically develops after people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace – in power plants, chemical and oil refineries, shipyards and aboard Navy ships, auto repair shops, construction sites, and schools. Workers who may have been grinding, cutting, ripping, sweeping, sanding or otherwise manipulating asbestos-containing materials released the nearly invisible, respirable asbestos fibers that they and others around them would then inhale. While many of these undetectable asbestos fibers would have been trapped by the body’s natural defense systems, hundreds of thousands and millions of fibers would have evaded those defenses and lodged deep in workers’ lungs.
Families Exposed to Asbestos
Unfortunately, family members of workers in these workplaces are also at risk of developing mesothelioma. After a long day at on the job, workers carried home fibers on their hair, skin and clothes and unknowingly created an increased risk for developing cancer for their family members. More worrisome, though, is that those asbestos fibers carried home on workers’ hair, skin and clothes then become nearly impossible to remove from the home environment. So, spouses and children that help with laundry and live in the same home as workers exposed to asbestos suffer their own repeated, on-going exposures to asbestos.
No Safe Level of Asbestos Exposure
Whether you were the worker directly handling asbestos with prolonged, heavy exposures or a family member of that worker laundering his or her clothes, every US governmental safety or public health agency has concluded that there simply is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. So while long-term exposures to asbestos may result in greater risk, shorter-term, low-level, and massive one-time exposures are also known to increase the risk of developing mesothelioma or lung cancer.
You May Not Know Until It’s Too Late
Unknowingly inhaling or swallowing these microscopic fibers causes severe damage, as our bodies struggle to get rid of them. Over decades, the trapped fibers trigger biological changes in the tissue that can cause inflammation, scarring and genetic damage that sometimes leads to cancer. Asbestos fibers most often become trapped in either the inside of the lungs, called the parenchyma, or the lining of the lungs, called the pleura. They also can migrate through the lymphatic system to collect in the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum) or heart (pericardium), and in very rare circumstances, the lining of the testicles. The lengthy gap between asbestos exposure and diagnosis, which can range from 20-50 years, is called the latency period. Unfortunately, your exposures to asbestos from long ago may have already determined your likelihood of developing mesothelioma or lung cancer.