Smoking has long been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer; however, there are questions as to whether it also has an effect on those exposed to asbestos and whether it contributes to an increased risk of mesothelioma. The links between smoking, asbestos exposure and mesothelioma risk have undergone considerable research, and the results are somewhat surprising.

Asbestos Exposure

It’s no secret that those who worked in shipbuilding and the insulation and automotive industries were (and many still are) exposed to asbestos for extended periods. For many, this has led to asbestosis, which is a form of severe scarring in the lungs that is directly caused by chronic asbestos exposure. Additionally, studies carried out in Great Britain have also discovered that this exposure is responsible for 22 out of 100 deaths due to lung cancer.

Another serious problem caused by long-term asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, which is a deadly form of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs and abdomen. As we know too well, there is no cure for mesothelioma.

Smoking and Asbestos Exposure

Due to the increased risk of both smoking and asbestos exposure to lung cancer, researchers have conducted two major studies to determine the effects of both issues together. These studies focused on whether those who experienced chronic asbestos exposure and were smokers saw an increased lung cancer rate.

Frost Et Al

The first study included medical records spanning the years of 1971 to 2005, and 98,912 people who were considered as having chronic asbestos exposure. The patient records were broken down into three categories based on the levels of exposure:

  • Low Asbestos Exposure – Those exposed for under 10 years
  • Medium Asbestos Exposure – Those exposed for 10 to 30 years
  • High Asbestos Exposure – Those exposed for over 30 years

12% of all of the patients included in the study died from lung cancer during the study period. However, those who were smokers had a higher incidence of lung cancer across all levels of asbestos exposure. Even those who quit smoking still saw a higher risk. Understandably, the patients who were nonsmokers had the lowest rates of lung cancer.

The conclusion from the Frost study indicated that around 26% of the deaths due to lung cancer were due to the combination of asbestos exposure and smoking.

Markowitz Study

The second study covered medical records from 1981 to 2008, and focused on those who worked in the insulation industry. 61% of the 2,377 workers covered in the study had asbestosis, and this group also had higher numbers of lung cancer. Additionally, this study found that:

  • Those exposed to asbestos were more than five times more likely to have lung cancer
  • Smokers were more than ten times more likely to have lung cancer
  • Patients who were exposed to asbestos and smoked were more than 28 times more likely to have lung cancer.
  • Workers who had been diagnosed with asbestosis and were smokers also had higher rates of lung cancer than nonsmokers who had asbestosis.
  • Stopping smoking for at least 10 years decreased lung cancer risk by about 50%.

Smoking and Mesothelioma

Another study that was conducted by Offemans and colleagues focused on 58,279 men to determine whether there were any links between asbestos exposure and smoking on mesothelioma development. This study concluded that the interaction between smoking and asbestos exposure was not significant in developing mesothelioma. An earlier study also showed similar results.

This study shows that while smoking does have an increased effect on lung cancer in general, the largest factor in mesothelioma is still long-term asbestos exposure, regardless of whether a person also smoked. If you or a loved one has developed this deadly disease, get in touch with the experienced team at Landry & Swarr for help considering all your options.