Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the United Kingdom, with around 43,500 people diagnosed in the UK each year. Lung cancer develops when lung tissue cells begin to abnormally grow out of control. As the cells grow they clump together and form a tumour. This growth within the lungs can lead to metastasis, which is where the cancer invades the adjacent tissue and invades the organs in the body beyond the lungs.


The biggest cause of lung cancer continues to be smoking, with a small proportion due to second hand smoke (passive smoking).  However, heavy asbestos exposure can lead to the development of lung cancer and it is reported that asbestos kills at least twice as many people each year through lung cancer than through mesothelioma.


All types of lung cancer can be caused by asbestos exposure those being squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, small cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma. Clinical signs and symptoms of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure and lung cancer caused by other things do not differ.


There is a minimum period of time between exposure to asbestos and the onset of lung cancer Exposure to asbestos dust does not cause lung cancer straight away. There is a minimum lag time of ten years.


Both smoking and asbestos can contribute to the development of lung cancer If you smoke or have smoked in the past and have also been exposed to asbestos dust you are at an even greater risk of developing lung cancer.  Sometimes patients are told that their lung cancer will be due to smoking however without detailed information regarding a person’s asbestos exposure it is simply not possible to say with any certainty whether asbestos has also played a part.


If you are diagnosed with lung cancer and have been exposed to asbestos in the past, it is possible that asbestos caused or contributed to the cancer, even if you are or have been a smoker.




The symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer include:


  • A persistent cough

  • Hoarseness

  • Chest pain which is worse when deep breathing

  • Weight loss

  • Loss of appetite

  • Coughing up blood

  • Shortness of breath

  • Feeling tired or weak

  • Recurring infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis


Whilst many of the symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer are regularly associated with other diseases and conditions, most people with this disease will have a number of the above symptoms prior to diagnosis. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above you should make an appointment to see your GP and tell him/her that you have had asbestos exposure in the past.




Asbestos-related lung cancer can be diagnosed by means of a chest X-ray and CT scan. The diagnosis is often then confirmed with a biopsy.


Whilst it is often difficult to determine whether or not the cause of the cancer was due to asbestos, or another factor, the diagnosis process is the same as is with all lung cancers. The sooner a diagnosis can be made, the better the prognosis and the wider number of treatment options available.


If you have a query about any of the information on this site then BASG are more than happy to help you, please contact us on or call 0118 467 6544.