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How does asbestos cause cancer?

Many people in North Carolina and elsewhere know that asbestos can cause several forms of lung disease, including an especially deadly type of cancer known as "mesothelioma." But how, exactly, does this material get into people's lungs? And how does it cause a disease to develop.

Asbestos was originally regarded as a valuable building material because it has a high resistance to heat and flame and because its fibers can be combined with other materials to give added strength. Asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally in the environment, but in its natural state, it poses almost no health risk. However, when asbestos is disturbed or when it is mined or used for pipe insulation or brakes or ceiling tile, the fibers can be released into the air. For example, an older building may have large amounts of pipe insulation that contains asbestos fibers. If the pipes are removed during demolition or rehabilitation, the asbestos-containing products can fractured, thereby releasing asbestos fibers into the air where they can be inhaled by workers or anyone else in the vicinity.

Once inhaled, asbestos fibers lodge in the lung tissue. Numerous medical studies have shown that asbestos fibers cause inflammation that, over time, can result in asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. In fact, inhalation of asbestos fibers is the only significant cause of mesothelioma.

Persons who believe that they have subjected to asbestos product exposure should inform their physician. If no asbestos-related diseases are observed, the physician monitor the patient's condition over time. If a person is diagnosed as having mesothelioma or any of the other diseases caused by asbestos, he or she may wish to consult a lawyer who specializes in handling product liability claims for damages against the companies that manufactured the asbestos product. A knowledgeable attorney can provide an overview of the claim and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

Source: Cleveland Clinic, "Asbestos Still Lurks in Older Buildings: Are Your Lungs at Risk?," Lungs, Breathing & Allergy Team, March 28, 2016

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