There are two ways people can be exposed to asbestos: inhaling or swallowing it.
Asbestos fibers may be in the air during construction, renovation, or demolition of a building that used asbestos-containing products and materials. You can also be exposed to asbestos if you consume food or liquids that have been exposed; for example drinking water that was transported via asbestos cement pipes.
When the fibers are inhaled, they can stick to mucus in the throat though they may be cleared by coughing or swallowing. Increased exposure may result in some fibers reaching the lungs which can irritate lung cells and eventually cause cancer or mesothelioma. Here are four cancers that are linked to asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma is probably the most common illness associated with asbestos exposure. This is a rare cancer of the membrane that covers the lungs and chest cavity, membranes surrounding other organs, or the membrane lining of the abdominal cavity. Unfortunately, signs and symptoms may not appear until 30-40 years after asbestos exposure.
- pain in chest/abdomen
- difficulty breathing
- dry or wheezing cough
- fluid around lungs
- respiratory complications
Exposure to asbestos may also result in lung cancer, which is a malignant tumor that invades and blocks air passages in the lungs. Smoking nicotine coupled with asbestos exposure greatly increases your chances of lung cancer. As with mesothelioma, many lung cancer cases come years after exposure; most are at least 15 years or more.
- chest pain/discomfort
- shortness of breath
- persistent coughing
- coughing up blood
- chronic respiratory infections
Commonly known as the voice box or Adam's apple, the larynx is the muscular organ that forms an air passage to the lungs. Exposure to asbestos can result in a 40% increase in the chance of laryngeal cancer compared to those with no exposure, according to studies. People with high exposure risk—professions including construction and textile workers and miners—had double-to-triple the risk of cancer of the larynx.
- difficulty/pain swallowing
- persistent sore/aching throat
- lump or swelling in neck
- sounding horse
More than 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Women working in professions and settings with possible asbestos exposure have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer as the inhaled or ingested fibers may travel to the ovaries.
- pelvic/abdominal pain
- frequent need to urinate
- pain during sex
- back pain
Other cancers potentially linked to asbestos exposure include stomach, pharynx, and colorectal. For more on asbestos exposure, click here.