Smoking doesn’t cause mesothelioma, but asbestos exposure causes both lung cancer and mesothelioma. In short, smoking and mesothelioma might not be directly linked, but asbestos exposure and smoking both make lung cancer much more likely.
Smoking and asbestos are both widely-known to be very dangerous, particularly in terms of cancer risk. Asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer, but it’s the sole known cause of another cancer called mesothelioma. The relationship between smoking and mesothelioma has been researched a lot, and although there may not be a direct causal link, the two are very closely connected due to the cancer-causing properties of asbestos, and anybody exposed to asbestos through work should quit smoking as soon as possible to reduce the risk.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer that can affect the lungs, the heart and the abdomen, and it is a particularly deadly form of cancer. It is fairly rare in the U.S., with only around 2,000 to 3,000 people developing it each year, but it’s still a big concern if you’re working in certain industries.
It’s caused by asbestos, and this is currently the only known cause of the condition. Asbestos is a fibrous material, and when asbestos is moved or disturbed many fibers become airborne and are inhaled by people in the vicinity. The mesothelium is a membrane that covers your heart, lungs and abdominal organs, and the fibers get trapped in this tissue. This causes inflammation, and over time this leads to tumors. This process takes a long time, though, and most people diagnosed with mesothelioma are 50 to 70 years old.
The most at-risk people for mesothelioma are construction workers, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, shipyard workers and boilermakers. However, the use of asbestos has been heavily regulated now because of this risk, so the exposures in people working in these industries today will be much lower. However, if you’re working with pipes or other materials produced before these regulations came into effect, there is still a risk. Your risk also increases if you’re exposed to radiation, asbestos-like minerals such as zeolite or carbon nanotubes.
Mesothelioma vs. Lung Cancer: What’s the Difference?
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium, which may occur in the lungs (called pleural mesothelioma), but may also effect the abdomen or the heart. Most people with the condition are affected in the lungs, though, so many people assume they are the same thing. The symptoms of both conditions are also similar, including breathing problems and chest pain.
For smoking and mesothelioma, it’s also important to note that asbestos which makes its way into the lung tissue can cause lung cancer.
Smoking and Mesothelioma
Despite much suspicion of a link between smoking and mesothelioma, it has not been recognized as a cause of the condition. However, that doesn’t mean that people with mesothelioma shouldn’t be worried about the additional damage to their lungs from smoking.
Asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma, but it can also cause lung cancer. So while smoking and mesothelioma are not causally connected, asbestos and smoking have a close connection due to the risk of lung cancer. Studies have shown that smokers who are exposed to asbestos have much higher chances of developing asbestos-related lung cancer, increasing the risk by 50 to 84 times. This is more than you would expect from simply adding the risks from asbestos and smoking together, which shows they combine to have an even bigger effect.
If you have any of the symptoms of mesothelioma, including difficulty breathing, chest pain, build up of fluid in the lungs or abdomen, nausea or vomiting and anemia, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Quitting smoking is always a good idea, but it’s especially important if you’re exposed to asbestos as part of your job.
Reducing the Risks of Mesothelioma and Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer
Mesothelioma is a very serious condition, and although regulations on asbestos use have made it less likely to occur, it’s vital that you take steps to ensure you aren’t exposed. Employers of workers likely to be exposed to asbestos are required to perform regular checks to ensure asbestos levels don’t get too high, and if they do, protective equipment should be provided to prevent you from breathing it in. However, if you’re working with asbestos, wearing protective equipment regardless of levels is the best approach.
Smoking and mesothelioma aren’t directly linked, but since asbestos can also cause lung cancer, if your job exposes you to it, you should stop smoking. There are many different approaches that can be used to quit smoking, including medications, nicotine replacement therapy products and alternative nicotine products like smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes, and you should use whichever one is most suited to you.
The key lesson is that for anybody exposed to asbestos, smoking is an even more serious risk than usual, and you should make every effort to stop as soon as you can.