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Lung cancer – why are we so scared to talk about it?

By Asbestos Action

It is the second most common form of cancer in the UK with more than 43,500 people diagnosed every year.

But why does it feel like there so little discussion about lung cancer compared to breast, ovarian or prostate cancer?

Is it because our society assumes lung cancer patients are smokers and any illness is self-inflicted?

Well, as it’s Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we thought we’d help improve communication on this terrible disease – and to start, we’re going to nip this notion in the bud right away, because…

Did you know a major cause of lung cancer is actually asbestos?

A person does not need to smoke to develop lung cancer.

Shipbuilders or tradespeople can develop the disease purely from coming into contact with asbestos fibres.

Some workers may have smoked AND have been exposed to asbestos but that just means it’s more likely they may suffer from lung cancer in later life.

It should also be noted that asbestos-related lung cancer is different to mesothelioma which is another type of cancer caused by asbestos.

Mesothelioma is a terminal cancer that most commonly affects the lining of the lungs.

Asbestos-related lung cancer affects the lung tissue cells and causes them to grow abnormally.

Despite the differences both conditions have similar symptoms:

  • A persistent cough lasting three weeks or more

  • A change in a cough that you have had for a long time

  • Repeated chest infections

  • Unexplained shortness of breath

  • Chest or shoulder pain

  • Coughing up blood

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Fatigue

  • Change of shape to the end of your fingers (clubbing).

If you experience any of these symptoms you should see your GP who will be able to investigate appropriately.

It’s almost guaranteed that people seeking help or advice with respiratory conditions will be asked about any smoking history but it’s also important to discuss the possibility of previous asbestos exposure.

We would hope all GPs ask respiratory patients about their work history but if they don’t then you should let them know.

Alerting your GP to past incidents where you may have been exposed to asbestos can help with your diagnosis and accessing any specialist support.

You may have worked on sites where there was asbestos every day for decades or maybe it was only a single job lasting a few hours.

Euan Love, Partner at Digby Brown’s Industrial Disease team, said:

“I’m concerned many people suffering from asbestos-related lung cancer are not getting access to the right support they need.
“When looking at mesothelioma a GP, lung cancer nurse or consultant will know that disease could only have come from asbestos exposure – the GP will then refer the patient to charities like Asbestos Action for specialist aftercare.
“But with lung cancer there is evidence to suggest that once a patient confirms they used to smoke then it’s assumed tobacco was the sole cause and no further questions are asked – but crucially, no specialist support services are offered.
“It’s therefore vital that those in the medical profession ask every lung cancer patient about their work history, even if they have a history of smoking.
“If asbestos exposure played even a small part in a person’s disease then it can impact their care needs, and care services, moving forwards and that person and their family deserve more.”

At Asbestos Action we believe there is a real need to get past the notion that lung cancer is a smokers disease because it is not.

Lung cancer can affect anyone.

It does not discriminate and neither should we.



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