Why does asbestos cause cancer?

We certainly know that asbestos exposure can lead to cancer. There’s a reason that the use is largely banned, even though it is a terrific insulator. It’s just too dangerous. Too many people have passed away after getting exposed to it, at different levels of exposure.

But why does it cause cancer? That’s another question entirely, but one it appears researchers are now even closer to answering.


The first thing to remember is that you typically need to inhale the particles for them to be most dangerous. This is why asbestos removable is so hazardous and why professional remediation teams use expensive protective gear. The greatest risk happens when asbestos particles get disturbed and enter the air as dust, where you can breathe them in without a proper filtration mask.

Immune systems and tissue repair

After you inhale those particles, they can become lodged in your lungs and surrounding tissue. Your body tries to fix it, but it cannot do so.

“Chronic exposure to asbestos triggers a type of tissue repair,” said the head researcher from a recent study, which had the backing of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). “The immune system goes out of balance and is no longer strong enough to combat tumor formation.”

Asbestos fibers are sharp, pointed and fairly long — at least as far as microscopic fibers are concerned. They really become embedded in the tissue, and that brings on chronic inflammation as the body tries to heal. The lymphatic system simply has no way to remove them from your body. It’s like having a chronic injury for years or even decades.

Allowing cancer to develop

In some ways, you can even look at this as if the asbestos is not directly causing the cancer, so much as it is reducing the body’s ability to prevent tumor growth. The body, as it tries to repair itself, starts to favor cell proliferation as part of that process. This makes it easier for a tumor to develop.

On top of that, the researchers looked at RNA strands and found numerous mutations. They put forth a hypothesis saying that the “mutations serve to attenuate the tissue repair immune response.” This means that the body does not combat tumor growth the way that it once did, and cancerous growths can then spread.

Your options

Understanding why asbestos causes cancer may help doctors learn how to cure it, but it is still one of the most dangerous diseases you can ever contract. It is often fatal. If you are suffering from it due to asbestos exposure, you have to know all of the legal options you have.