Asbestos and Cancer Risk: Everything You Need to Know
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  • July 24, 2019

$10 million a year — that’s how much Canadian companies made through asbestos exports. That was back in the 1930s, which means that today, that amount would equate to $150 million.

So, it’s no wonder asbestos was once dubbed the “Canadian gold”. It seemed to be a thing of wonder — not only was it durable, flexible, and fireproof; it was also cheap. Plus, it made for great insulation.

All these properties led to the material’s massive use in manufacturing and construction.

What people back then weren’t aware of was the link between asbestos and cancer. In fact, it wasn’t until 1924 when the first medical article on asbestos dangers came out. But by then, millions of Canadians have been already exposed.

How exactly did this “miracle material” turn out to be a medical disaster though? And what kind of cancer, among other diseases, could it cause?

All these and more, we’ll uncover in this post, so be sure to keep reading!

The Undeniable Link Between Exposure to Asbestos and Cancer

Today, asbestos exposure is the primary cause of workplace deaths in Canada. Since 1996, there have already been 5,000 approved asbestos-related death claims. Mesothelioma, a type of aggressive cancer, accounts for many of these claims.

But why exactly does asbestos cause cancer?

The simple reason is that it’s a type of carcinogen, meaning, it promotes cancer formation. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that all asbestos types are carcinogenic. Aside from mesothelioma, WHO also noted asbestos to be a cause of lung, ovarian, and larynx cancers.

Many other health organizations classify it as carcinogenic, including the following:

  • International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC)
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • European Union (EU Classification and Labeling)

So, what about in Canada? The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) classifies asbestos as a D2A material. This makes it a “poisonous and infectious material” with very toxic effects.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Every year, 2.1 in every 100,000 Canadians receive a mesothelioma diagnosis. In 2013 alone, doctors diagnosed 595 Canadians with this asbestos-caused lung cancer. In the same year, this type of cancer claimed 485 lives in the country.

Mesothelioma, while seemingly rare, is still the most common type of asbestos cancer. Exposure to asbestos is in fact, the primary culprit behind this lung cancer.

Mesothelioma develops when asbestos fibers enter the body through inhalation or ingestion. These fibers become embedded in the lung’s, heart’s, or abdomen’s lining. From there, the anchored fibers start to destroy mesothelial cells, resulting in inflammation.

Over the years, the damaged mesothelium begins to develop tumors. Yes, it can take years — between 20 and 50 years — before symptoms, such as dry cough and shortness of breath, appear.

Chest or abdomen pains, fever, night sweats, and muscle weakness are also common signs. Many mesothelioma patients may also have fluid around their lungs (pleural effusion). This can then lead to complications in respiratory functions.

Asbestos-Caused Lung Cancer

Mesothelioma is different from asbestos lung cancer. As mentioned above, mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs. Whereas the former is cancer of the lung tissues.

As fibers become trapped in the lung tissue, they can irritate and cause scarring there. Over time, these effects result in tumor formation. Asbestos fibers can cause both non-small and small cell lung cancers.

Like with mesothelioma, the more exposure to asbestos, the higher the risk of lung cancers. Meaning, the more fibers exposed to and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk.

Also, it can take about 15 years or more from the time of exposure to asbestos before lung cancer develops. Moreover, smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer in asbestos-exposed individuals.

The Other Hazards of Asbestos Exposure

Aside from cancers, asbestosis is another huge health problem caused by asbestos exposure. In this case, the inhaled or swallowed asbestos fibers get trapped deep in the lungs. From there, the fibers can irritate and cause scarring in the lungs.

Both the irritation and scarring cause difficulties in breathing. That’s why asbestosis’ primary symptoms are chronic cough and shortness of breath. Some may also suffer from chest pains, appetite loss, and weight loss.

From the first exposure to asbestos fibers, it can take between 10 and 20 years for asbestosis to occur. In some people, it can even take up to 40 years or longer. The lung disease, however, usually worsens over time.

The Ban on Asbestos Doesn’t Mean Complete Protection

Last year, Canada has finally banned the sale, use, and import of processed asbestos fibers. Products that contain this material are now also barred. Consumer products with asbestos in more than trace amounts are also now illegal.

These are all good news, but that doesn’t mean you’re 100% protected from asbestos. After all, these fibers are still in many materials and products sold in Canada before the ban.

That’s why it’s vital to identify asbestos-containing materials in your home ASAP. For instance, homes built in the 90s may have asbestos ceiling and floor tiles. Insulation, house siding, cement, plaster, and even furnaces may also contain asbestos fibers.

If you find any of these materials, it’s best to have an expert asbestos removal service get rid of them for you. Especially if any of them are showing signs of wear and tear. These damages allow fibers to get released into the air.

Don’t Underestimate the Dangers of Asbestos

As you can see, there is no denying that asbestos and cancer go hand in hand. The bottom line is, asbestos fibers cause lung cancer and mesothelioma. They are a major health hazard that you should no longer ignore.

If your home or office contains a lot of asbestos materials, we can help. Please get in touch with us ASAP, and we’ll get rid of these hazards in the safest possible manner!

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