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Asbestos exposure can cause several types of cancer. The most common is mesothelioma, although lung cancer, laryngeal cancer and several other malignancies can also be caused by exposure to asbestos.
Because asbestos cancer is somewhat rare, researchers have not yet gained a comprehensive understanding of how the carcinogen causes specific cancers to develop. While it’s already known that asbestos fibers can become lodged in the tissues that surround the lungs, abdomen and heart, causing inflammation and cellular changes that lead to mesothelioma, it’s not quite clear what role asbestos plays in the development of other cancers.
The types of cancer that have a confirmed link to asbestos exposure, as determined by the World Health Organization, include:
- Pleural mesothelioma (cancer that develops in the membrane that surrounds the lungs)
- Peritoneal mesothelioma (cancer that develops in the membrane that lines the abdomen)
- Pericardial mesothelioma (cancer that develops in the membrane that surrounds the heart)
- Lung cancer (around 4 percent of all lung cancer diagnoses are attributable to asbestos exposure)
- Ovarian cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
There are several other types of cancer that researchers believe may be more likely to develop as a result of significant asbestos exposure, although the potential link has not yet been confirmed. These include breast cancer, colorectal cancer, leukemia and prostate cancer.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, we have experience in treating a wide range of asbestos-related cancers, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and others. We also offer comprehensive screening programs for individuals who have been identified as having an elevated risk of developing an asbestos cancer due to a long history of high-dose exposure. Generally, individuals who were exposed to asbestos only one or two times throughout their lives do not need to be worried about adverse health effects, but people who routinely worked with asbestos, lived with someone who worked with the fibers or lived in cities where the mineral was naturally present may benefit from regular screenings.