Asbestos Exposure and Lung Cancer

textile plantPeople who worked in asbestos textile plants during the period from the 1950s to 1970s face a significantly increased risk of lung cancer and death due to chrysotile asbestos exposure, according to a study published in the journal, Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Asbestos has previously been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis (a chronic lung disorder). This study specifically looked at four North Carolina plants that produced textile products with chrysotile asbestos—the most commonly used form of this industrial fiber. Amosite and crocidolite are two lesser-used forms of asbestos. Past studies had raised questions about the potential of these different asbestos fibers to cause cancer.

In the current study, researchers looked at the asbestos exposures and medical histories of 5,770 workers who had been employed at the four North Carolina plants between 1950 and 1973. More than 2,500 of the workers died during the study period, 277 of them from lung cancer. The plant workers’ rate of lung cancer was 95 percent higher than that of the general population, and their rate of death from all causes was 45 percent higher. The risk of mesothelioma was also significantly increased, as were mortality rates for other diseases associated with asbestos exposure, including cancers of the larynx and rectum, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.

The longer the workers were exposed to asbestos fibers, the greater their risk of developing lung cancer and asbestosis. Those who had been employed at the textile plant for 20 or more years faced the highest lung cancer risk. The cancer rate was also higher when several years had elapsed since the asbestos exposure (lung cancer takes many years to develop after a person has been exposed to asbestos).

This study addresses important questions about the cancer-causing potential of chrysotile asbestos, says lead author, Dana Loomis, PhD, Professor in the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno. Past research that did not find a clear link between chrysotile asbestos and mesothelioma included very few mesothelioma deaths. The current study, which had access to large numbers of exposed workers, as well as plant exposure data and medical histories, suggests that exposure to chrysotile asbestos does significantly increase the risk for mesothelioma, as well as lung cancer.

These findings could be crucial to policy decisions currently being made about the deregulation of chrysotile asbestos. “Our findings support the conclusion that chrysotile is carcinogenic [cancer causing] to humans and that it should continue to be regulated like other forms of asbestos,” Dr. Loomis says. “The data do not provide any support for proposals that chrysotile is safe for wider use. This conclusion is especially relevant for developing countries where strong regulations on asbestos have not been established.”

If you worked in around asbestos and were diagnosed with lung cancer you should speak to a reputable asbestos attorney to find out about your legal rights and deadlines.  For a list of reputable asbestos attorneys in your area send us an email at

Loomis D, Dement JM, Wolf SH, Richardson DB. Lung cancer mortality and fiber exposures among North Carolina asbestos textile workers. Occup Environ Med. 2009 Mar 11. [Epub ahead of print]

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