In this guide we will answer frequently asked questions about asbestos-related lung cancer.




Can asbestos cause lung cancer?

Yes, exposure to asbestos can cause lung cancer.


What is asbestos-related lung cancer?

Asbestos-related lung cancer is a rare form of lung cancer caused or contributed to by exposure to asbestos. It is commonly diagnosed at a late stage because the time period between exposure and the onset of symptoms is rarely less than 20 or 30 years. If someone has been a smoker, the cause of the lung cancer may be initially attributed to smoking rather than asbestos exposure.


Why does asbestos cause lung cancer?

When products or materials containing asbestos are disturbed, microscopic fibres are released into the air. If the asbestos fibres are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lung tissue. Asbestos lung cancer is the result of the development of tumours which develop over a period of 20 to 40 years.


What are the symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer?

Both asbestos-related lung cancer and other lung cancers present the same general symptoms:

  • Persistent coughing
  • Hoarseness or wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain and discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of the neck or face.

If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, or you have a known history of asbestos exposure, it is important to undergo frequent check-ups with your GP and request regular x-rays and/or scans every two to three years to check for asbestos disease.


How is asbestos-related lung cancer diagnosed?

A diagnosis of lung cancer will be made by a chest consultant following investigations which usually include:

  • X-rays
  • A bronchoscopy
  • A CT scan
  • A PET scan.

The consultant may recommend a bronchoscopy if an x-ray shows something abnormal. A bronchoscopy involves inserting a narrow flexible tube down your nose or throat to examine the airways.

In addition, they may request a CT scan or PET scan, which takes pictures of the inside of the body and provides much more information. If these tests lead to a diagnosis of asbestos lung cancer, further tests may be required to see whether the cancer has spread and help the consultant decide on the best course of treatment.

It's important when you're having investigations to make sure you tell your GP and any other health care professionals about any history of asbestos exposure.

If you have suffered due to a cancer misdiagnosis, you may be able to make a medical negligence claim.


How much exposure to asbestos is required to develop asbestos-related lung cancer?

The minimum asbestos exposure required to cause lung cancer is currently uncertain. However, we do know that repeated and long-term exposure increases the risk of developing lung cancer from asbestos. Because of this, your level of exposure to asbestos will be important to determine whether your lung cancer is asbestos related.

Asbestos exposure is assessed using the Helsinki criteria in order to determine whether it caused lung cancer. According to the criteria, exposure to asbestos dust to the level of 25 fibre/ml years must have occurred to be considered asbestos-related lung cancer.

This is the equivalent of roughly one year’s heavy exposure to asbestos dust (for example, working as an asbestos lagger for one year), or 5-10 years of moderate exposure to asbestos dust (such as working as a carpenter cutting asbestos sheets or working near someone who was).

To make a successful legal claim for asbestos related lung cancer you will need to show significant exposure to asbestos.


Who is at risk from asbestos-related lung cancer?

Workers involved in maintenance, refurbishment, and other similar trades, could be at risk of exposure to asbestos. This includes:

  • Shipyard and shipping industry workers
  • Heating and ventilation engineers
  • Demolition workers
  • Carpenters and joiners
  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Roofing contractors
  • Painters and decorators


  • Plasterers
  • Construction workers
  • Power Station workers
  • Insulation installers
  • Gas fitters
  • Telecommunications engineers
  • Cable layers.


Working on a building built before 2000 puts you at greatest risk, as asbestos was not banned until 1999 in the UK. Lung cancer sufferers who can demonstrate that they been exposed to asbestos working in any of the above industries should seek legal advice as soon as possible.


Do I need to have asbestosis to have asbestos-related lung cancer?

No, you do not need to have asbestosis to be diagnosed with asbestos-related lung cancer.

Historically, it was presumed that lung cancer could not be caused, or contributed to, by asbestos exposure without asbestosis also being present. It has since been medically established that asbestos-related lung cancer can in fact occur without the presence of asbestosis.

However, the presence of asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, pleural plaques, or diffuse pleural thickening may provide additional evidence that lung cancer has been caused or contributed to by exposure to asbestos dust.


Can I have asbestos-related lung cancer even though I smoked?

Yes, people who have smoked can develop lung cancer that was at least partly caused by asbestos.

A person’s risk of developing lung cancer increases by a factor of around 10 by smoking and five by asbestos exposure. The cumulative effect of smoking and asbestos exposure increases the risk of developing lung cancer by more than 50 times.

It can be more difficult to pursue a legal claim for asbestos-related lung cancer if you have a history of smoking, but it is still possible to win compensation.


Types of lung cancer from asbestos

There are two main forms of lung cancer caused by asbestos: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Around 80% of all lung cancers are NSCLC.


Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

SCLC is a form of lung cancer composed of cells that are smaller in comparison to those of NSCLC, which tend to grow and spread faster. However, these properties make SCLC more responsive to radiation and chemotherapy treatment.


Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

NSCLC is a form of lung cancer composed of larger cells with subtypes including adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma. NSCLC usually spreads more slowly than SCLC and reacts and responds differently to treatment.

Exposure to asbestos can also cause mesothelioma – a different type of cancer that can form in the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen – and other serious lung diseases such as asbestosis and pleural thickening.


Mesothelioma vs asbestos-related lung cancer

There are several differences between mesothelioma and lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, including location, growth pattern, treatment, and other factors. Lung cancer develops inside the lung space, while pleural mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs.

In addition to their significant expertise in lung cancer claims, our asbestos solicitors are highly experienced at winning mesothelioma compensation for our clients.


Life expectancy after diagnosis with asbestos-related lung cancer

Those who are diagnosed with asbestos-related lung cancer when the cancer is still small and has not spread have the best prognosis, with surgery to removal of the tumour in its early stages offering a good chance of a cure.

However, most diagnoses occur when the cancer is at a later stage and when the cancer has unfortunately already spread. In these circumstances, a cure is less likely. The progression of the disease may be slowed by palliative treatment.

Asbestos-related lung cancer patients have a similar prognosis as those with non-asbestos-related lung cancer. Around one in three people with the condition live for at least one year after they're diagnosed and about one in 20 people live at least 10 years.

However, life expectancy rates vary widely, depending on how far the cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis. As with other asbestos-related diseases, early diagnosis of asbestos lung cancer can lead to a better prognosis.


Treatment for asbestos-related lung cancer

You will be offered treatment based on the stage of your cancer, your general health and fitness level, and your personal preferences.

Treatments which may be available include:

  • Surgery – this option may involve a surgeon removing a section of the lung, the lobe or the full lung
  • Radiotherapy – this treatment involves using high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy – this treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells, it can reduce the size of the tumour and relieve some of the symptoms
  • Other treatments – including radio frequency ablation, photodynamic therapy or biological therapy.


Can I claim compensation for asbestos-related lung cancer?

If you have been diagnosed with asbestos-related lung cancer you may be entitled to compensation from those responsible for your asbestos exposure.

To discuss your case and find out if you have a claim for asbestos lung cancer compensation, please request a call back or call our lawyers free on 0800 0 224 224.