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Do You Think Your Lung Cancer May Have Been Caused by Asbestos Exposure? Our Attorneys Can Help You Investigate.
Nearly 150,000 Americans succumb to lung cancer from asbestos every year. The vast majority of these cases are a result of smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke. However, a subset of the lung cancer patient population has developed the disease as a result of toxic exposure to substances such as asbestos.
While many people believe mesothelioma is a lung cancer, this is not correct. While in many cases mesothelioma affects the respiratory area, it attacks the lining of the lungs (pleura), and not the lungs themselves. Mesothelioma can also originate in other areas of the body. Lung cancer, on the other hand, always begins in the lungs but can spread to other parts of the body.
If you or a loved one just received a lung cancer diagnosis and you think asbestos exposure was a factor, we invite you to reach out to our firm. Our team at Shrader & Associates, L.L.P. has helped thousands of patients of asbestos-related diseases make claims for compensation. Even if you do not think you want to start the claims process right now, you should know your legal rights and options. We offer free consultations to make the process as easy as possible for you.
Types of Lung Cancer from Asbestos
There are two types of lung cancer that are typically caused by asbestos exposure: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). The more common of the two types is NSCLC, which makes up around 85-90 percent of all lung cancer cases; SCLC accounts for the remaining 10-15 percent. As the names suggest, the cancer cells look different between the two. They also vary in their growth patterns and the way they metastasize.
Characteristics of NSCLC
This form of lung cancer is slow-spreading, and can present in one of 3 varieties: adenocarcinoma, large cell lung cancer, and squamous cell carcinoma. The cells in these subtypes are different from each other in terms of size, shape, and chemical make-up. However, they are grouped together because the treatment for all three subtypes is similar.
Non-small cell lung cancer tends to remain isolated in the lungs and its growth and metastasis are much slower than SCLC.
Surgery is the first line of treatment for patients whose NSCLC hasn’t metastasized further than the local lymph nodes. The patient may also receive follow up chemotherapy and/or radiation.
Characteristics of SCLC
Small cell lung canceris far more aggressive than NSCLC. By the time a patient is diagnosed with SCLC, there’s a 70% chance their cancer has already metastasized.
This form of cancer is typically treated with chemotherapy and radiation, but not with surgery. It is considered to be responsive to treatment.
Other Asbestos-Related Conditions
Though much rarer, asbestos exposure has been linked with diseases and cancers affecting the lungs and their surrounding area including thoracic sarcoma, bronchioalveolar carcinoma, silicosis, and carcinoid tumor lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Diagnosis
Though there are some marked differences between mesothelioma and lung cancer, patients with these types of cancer often exhibit similar symptoms of chest pain, difficulty breathing, and a dry, raspy cough. Patients who have been exposed to asbestos should let their doctor know so quick steps can be taken.
If a doctor suspects lung cancer, they are likely to order a radiograph—an X-ray that can create an internal image. Though there are other conditions that may have an appearance similar to lung cancer with this type of test, it can be used to rule out many diseases.
The form additional tests take depends on the location of the primary tumor. If it is centrally located, the patient may undergo:
- Sputum cytology – A sample of sputum, which is produced in the lungs and the airways leading to them, is examined under a microscope to see if abnormal cells are present and to identify their type.
- Bronchoscopy – An endoscope is introduced into the airways to allow the doctor to examine the bronchi and acquire tissue from the bronchi, the main part of the lung, and the space between the lungs for a biopsy.
- Transthoracic biopsy – This procedure uses a cutting needle to remove a larger sampling of tissue. It is typically performed if the bronchoscopy did not produce a definitive diagnosis.
If the tumor is peripherally located, diagnostic procedures may include:
- CT-guided transthoracic biopsy – A CT scan is used to help guide the biopsy needle.
- Thoracoscopy – Like a bronchoscopy, this process uses an endoscope for the examination of the affected area and the removal of tissue for biopsy. However, thoracoscopy gives a much wider view than bronchoscopy, and the procedure ends in a correct diagnosis about 95% of the time.
- Thoracotomy – The chest is surgically opened so a doctor can examine the lung(s).
Lung Cancer Staging
The next step after a lung cancer diagnosis is staging—a determination of how advanced the cancer is. Doctors have created different staging systems for NSCLC and SCLC.
Staging Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)
The most commonly used staging system for NSCLC is the TNM system developed by the American Joint Committee for Cancer Staging. In this system, the stages of lung cancer are classified according to three factors. They are T (tumor): the size of the primary tumor and how far it has spread; N (node): the level of regional lymph node involvement; and M (metastasis): Whether the cancer has spread to different organs.
All factors are assessed independently, and their results are combined to determine the patient’s stage.
Values for tumor analysis:
- T0 – There are cancer cells in sputum or lung samples, but no tumor is visible.
- T1 – The tumor is three centimeters or less in size and is present in the lung or the pleura, but not in the main airway.
- T2 – The tumor can be characterized by any of the following:
- It is larger than three centimeters
- It has invaded the main airway
- It is two or more centimeters away from the ridge at the furthest part of the windpipe
- It has infiltrated the pleura
- There is either collapsed lung tissue or swelling that blocks part of the lung
- T3 – The tumor has infiltrated either the chest wall; the diaphragm; a membrane covering another organ in the chest; or the sac surrounding the heart. Also in this stage, the tumor is either less than two centimeters away from the ridge at the furthest end of the windpipe, but not in the windpipe; or the entire lung has collapsed/swelling now blocks the whole lung.
- T4 – The tumor has infiltrated the area between the lungs; heart; blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart; ridge at the furthest end of the windpipe; windpipe; esophagus; and/or a major portion of the spine. This stage may additionally present with more than one tumor present in the same lobe of the lung or a fluid buildup between the pleura and the lung (pleural effusion).
Values for node analysis:
- N0 – There is no cancer in the regional lymph nodes.
- N1 – The disease has spread to the lymph nodes closest to the airways and/or the area where blood and lymph vessels enter the lung. The tumor is also present in lymph nodes inside the lung.
- N2 – The disease has spread to the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest next to the lung with the tumor and/or the lymph nodes under the ridge below the furthest part of the windpipe.
- N3 – The disease has spread to lymph nodes in the middle of the chest near the opposite lung; to the area in the opposite lung where blood and lymph vessels enter; to lymph nodes in muscle tissue; or to lymph nodes above the collar bone.
Values for metastasis analysis:
- M0 (zero) – There is no metastasis.
- M1 – There is metastasis.
Staging Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)
There are only two classifications in the SCLC staging system, which is much simpler than the TNM system used for NSCLC staging:
- Limited stage means that the cancer is only in one lung and perhaps lymph nodes on the same side of the chest. It is typically confined to an area that is small enough to be treated with radiation therapy.
- Extensive stage is used to describe cancer that has spread to the other lung, to lymph nodes on the other side of the chest, or to distant organs. Many doctors consider SCLC that has spread to the fluid around the lung to be extensive stage cancer as well.
We Can Help Lung Cancer Patients Who Were Exposed to Asbestos
Lung cancer from asbestos is a devastating disease that takes a toll not only on victims but also on their families and loved ones. If the cause of this cancer was toxic exposure, you likely have the right to file for compensation. Our attorneys are here to help you understand your legal options and investigate potential sources of exposure in your past.
We’ve been helping the victims of asbestos-related disease for decades, so we know what you are going through during this time. Our goal is to do whatever we can to help our clients, because the last thing anyone needs after a cancer diagnosis is more stress. Having confidence in your attorney team is important, which is why we invite you to reach out to us for a free, no-obligation consultation. We can explain your rights and let you know how our firm has helped other clients in the past—and can help you.
Whatever you decide to do next, it’s important to have all the information before you set your path. Shrader & Associates, L.L.P. can help you figure out the best steps to take after a lung cancer diagnosis.
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