Lung Cancer Lawsuits: The Carcinogens

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the second most common cancer; among men, only prostate cancer is more common, and among women, only breast cancer is more common. Each year, there are about 236,740 new cases of lung cancer and 130,180 deaths from lung cancer. Only a small number of those diagnosed with lung cancer are younger than 45, with the average age of lung cancer diagnosis being about 70. Lung cancer is the cause of one-fourth of all cancer deaths, although lung cancer deaths are dropping thanks to early detection and treatment as well as the fact that fewer people are smoking.

While smoking is certainly a cause of lung cancer, it is far from the only cause. There are many other carcinogens that can result in lung cancer, including asbestos, radon gas, silica dust, and more. This means that even if you were or are a smoker, the cause of your lung cancer may not be that simple. Carcinogens you’ve been exposed to in the workplace may have caused—or at least contributed—to your lung cancer diagnosis

  • Asbestos—When tiny asbestos fibers lodge in the lung tissues, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis can all occur. While mesothelioma develops on the lining on the outside of the lung, lung cancer develops on the inside of the lung. Asbestos exposure can result in asbestos lung cancer and can increase the risk of lung cancer among those who smoke. Asbestos lung cancer can be small cell, or non-small cell, typically developing from 15-35 years following exposure to asbestos. Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for about 85 percent of all lung cancers and may be one of three types: adenocarcinoma, squamous cell, and large cell. Small cell lung cancers are more difficult to treat and may spread to other parts of the body without overt symptoms. Lung cancer symptoms can include chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite, swelling of the face and neck, and coughing up blood. Asbestos lung cancer prognosis and treatment will depend on the type of the cancer as well as the cancer stage. While asbestos lung cancer can take many years to develop, it can spread and metastasize in a few short months. If you’ve worked in fields where asbestos is used (certain types of manufacturing, shipbuilding and repair, power generation, certain chemical industries, firefighting, asphalt, construction, coal mines, brick kilns, power plants, steel mills, firebrick manufacturing, spray-on insulation), you may have inhaled microscopic asbestos fibers which then became lodged in your lung tissues. Asbestos essentially triggers the body’s nervous system to fuel the development and spread of lung cancer tumor development.  If you have been exposed to asbestos, your risk factors for developing lung cancer include your overall health, whether you have ever smoked, your genetics, and the duration and intensity of the asbestos exposure. No single substance leads to more cases of occupational lung cancer than asbestos; asbestos is responsible for 37.5 percent of all occupational lung cancers. Asbestos lung cancer is diagnosed through imaging scans, including x-rays, PET scans, and CT scans, along with a biopsy of the suspicious tissue. Treatments for asbestos lung cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy. If asbestos lung cancer is found in the early stages, removing the tumor through a surgical procedure could be an option. Asbestos lung cancer life expectancy averages 16.2 months.
  • Radon Gas—When uranium, thorium, and radium in the rocks and soil decay, they release a radioactive gas, known as radon. Radon gas is invisible, tasteless, and has no odor as it seeps up through the ground, diffusing into the air. Depending on the geology of the area, radon can also dissolve into groundwater, releasing into the air when the water is used. While radon gas exists naturally outdoors in low levels, when it is found in indoor areas with poor ventilation, the risk of lung cancer is significantly increased. Underground mines are just one area where radon gas can be found at unsafe levels. Radon gas can also be released from building materials or from water obtained from wells containing the gas. As radon decays, tiny radioactive particles are released and, when inhaled, these particles can damage the cells lining an individual’s lungs. Lung cancer is the only cancer proven to be associated with inhaling radon, but the threat was not investigated until scientists noted that underground miners exposed to radon had a significantly higher rate of death from lung cancer. While it has been suggested that radon gas exposure can cause an increase in leukemia, the evidence is not yet conclusive. Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, with between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year directly related to radon gas exposure. While smoking certainly increases the risk of radon gas lung cancer, more than 10 percent of radon-related cancer deaths occur among non-smokers. While there is less exposure in homes than in certain industries, scientists estimate that the overall number of lung cancer deaths could be reduced by 2-4 percent if radon levels in homes were measured and reduced. The damage done to the lungs by radon gas cannot be reversed, therefore a radon gas lung cancer prognosis is unlikely to be positive unless caught very early.  
  • Silica Dust—Silica is found in stone, soil, and sand, as well as construction materials like mortar, brick, and concrete. Quartz dust is respirable crystalline silica, meaning you can breathe in the dust. Exposure to silica dust largely occurs in occupational and industrial settings, such as workers who use handheld masonry saws to cut materials like concrete and brick. In fact, the strongest link between exposure to crystalline silica and lung cancer has been seen in quarry and granite workers, along with workers involved in ceramic, pottery, and refractory brick.  Products such as certain cosmetics, pet litter, talcum powder, paint, art clays, cleansers, and art glazes may all have silica particles that can be breathed into the lungs. Inhaled silica dust can penetrate deep into the lungs, resulting in lung cancer, as well as silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and even kidney disease as the kidneys attempt to remove the silica dust from the body. Thousands of workers across the United States are affected by lung cancer as a result of breathing in silica dust in their workplace. Like asbestos, it can take years from silica dust to result in serious illnesses like silica dust lung cancer—often after 15-20 years of occupational exposure. Shortness of breath is one of the first signs of lung cancer resulting from silica dust. In the later stages of silica dust lung cancer, chest pain, extreme shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, and respiratory failure can occur. When silica dust causes lung cancer, the abnormal cells grow into tumors, interfering with the normal functioning of the lungs. These abnormal lung cancer cells can also metastasize, causing damage to other parts of the body. Silica dust lung cancer may be treated through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy, but is not generally considered “curable.”  While it can take many years to cause lung cancer, Silica dust causes damage to the lungs that cannot be reversed. Silica dust lung cancer patients have a life expectancy of 1.6 years unless the disease is caught early.
  • Other Lung Carcinogens—While radon gas, silica dust, and asbestos are the primary lung carcinogens, there are other carcinogens that can also contribute to lung cancer. Cigarette smoke is obviously a primary cause of lung cancer, possibly including smoking marijuana and e-cigarettes. Other inhaled chemicals like coal products, vinyl chloride, chromium or nickel compounds, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, and chloromethyl ethers can contribute to the risk of lung cancer, although exposure to these chemicals is less common. Diesel exhaust is another lung carcinogen. Diesel exhaust is made of gases and soot. The gas portion is carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides, and nitrogen dioxide. The particulates (soot) portion is made up of carbon, organic materials, and traces of metallic compounds. Exposure to diesel exhaust can occur at work, in your home, or while traveling, although the amount of diesel fumes we are exposed to varies significantly. In the workplace, truck drivers, toll booth workers, heavy machinery operators, forklift drivers, mechanics, garage workers, railroad workers, dock workers, and farm workers all have higher levels of exposure to diesel fumes. Another lung carcinogen is radiation. Even though radiation is often used to treat some forms of cancer, those who have had radiation therapy in the chest area have the highest risk of lung cancer. Those who smoke and have had radiation therapy have an even higher risk of developing lung cancer. Current research is being done to determine whether talc fibers found in talcum powder can result in an increase in lung cancer, but the results are not yet conclusive. About five percent of all lung cancer deaths can tentatively be tied to air pollution (those who live near heavily trafficked roads), but like talcum powder fibers, there are no definitive results.

Getting the Help You Need from a Lung Cancer Lawyer - If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may believe your cancer is the result of genetics, or because you smoked cigarettes in the past. In truth, the carcinogens that you may have been exposed to in the workplace could have significantly contributed to—or straight up caused—your lung cancer. There are many legal remedies available to you, many of which depend on the cause of your lung cancer. As an example, there is a $30 billion trust fund for those who have developed lung cancer or mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure.

Your lung cancer treatment options will depend on how quickly your lung cancer is detected, the lung cancer causes, and whether you are diagnosed with epithelial lung cancer, pericardial lung cancer, biphasic lung cancer, or malignant peritoneal lung cancer. What you can be sure of is that having a strong lung cancer attorney by your side can truly make a difference in the outcome of your lung cancer lawsuit.

DISCLAIMER: Statutes of Limitations limit the amount of time that an individual has to file a lawsuit, and not only vary from state to state, but also vary by cause of action. The information provided above and in the state-specific pages in this section is meant as a general guide, and is for informational purposes only. Each client’s case is unique, and the specific circumstances of any individual case can have significant bearing on the applicable statute of limitations. Any person who believes they may have a viable cause of action is strongly encouraged to consult with an attorney about the statute of limitations for his or her case. Attorney Andrew Sullo is licensed to practice law in Texas, and can prosecute cases that are part of a federal multi-district litigation. Andrew Sullo does not practice law in any other state, and is not certified by the Boards of Legal Specialization in any state. Not all states have board certifications. This information is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the State of Texas. Our firm is not accepting cases in any state where it would be impermissible for it to do so. Sullo & Sullo, LLP maintains its principal office in Houston, Texas.

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