Asbestos and Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Lung
Also known as SCC, squamous cell carcinoma accounts for 30 percent of lung cancers. Learn about what causes the disease and what symptoms to look for.
What Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
Also called squamous cell cancer (SCC), squamous cell carcinoma is a variation of non-small lung cancer (NSCLC) where the tumors begin development in squamous cells (thin, flat cells). These cells can be found all over the body, and largely make up the epidermis or outer layer of skin. SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer. Another subtype of NSLC is large cell carcinoma.
Squamous Cell Lung Cancer
Besides the skin, squamous cells can be found in the lining of hollow organs of the body, respiratory, and digestive tracts. SCC tumors tend to grow and spread quickly.
After these tumors develop in the lungs, they can rapidly metastasize (spread further away) to lymph nodes and deeper inside the lung, mediastinum, or thorax. Cancer can even spread through the bloodstream, making its way to the liver, opposite lung, bone, or brain.
The disease has many causes, including exposure to smog as well as a naturally-occurring mineral called asbestos.
The Asbestos Connection
There was a time when asbestos was used frequently in the production of tools, building materials, and structures. This was due to its fire and electrical resistance, malleability, and cost-effectiveness. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the public discovered exposure to the mineral to be harmful to human health.
While rare, asbestos has been linked to squamous cell lung cancer and other diseases. Dangerous exposure can happen when workers inhale the mineral’s poisonous fibers during construction, demolition, and renovation projects that involve contaminated structures or materials.
Who Is Affected
The toxic mineral can be found in a variety of capacities in older structures and insulating materials. Toxic working areas occur where the material is in a friable (powder, crumble) state.
Common uses for the mineral include reinforcing:
- Automobile clutches
- Brake pads
- Cement pipe
- Corrugated sheeting
- Roofing products
- Vinyl tile
Industries that have a higher risk of exposure-related diseases include:
- Construction and demolition
- Mining and milling
- The U.S. military, especially the Navy
Sometimes diseases can take over 20 years after exposure to develop. This can make it difficult to pinpoint the cause of illness. Your doctor is a reliable resource for putting the cause of disease together with your timeline.
Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnosis
Often, there are signs that a person can look for to determine the likelihood of developing squamous cell lung carcinoma. Still, a doctor is the best person to make this official decision (i.e., a diagnosis). Symptoms can appear when a person has already begun developing the illness. They may also become more severe as the disease develops.
Some signs to look for are:
- Family health history
- Genetic disorders
- Prolonged exposure to toxic substances like asbestos
- Weakened immune system
Symptoms of SCC of the lung include:
- Coughing up blood
- Chronic cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath
- Unplanned weight loss
- Weakness, fatigue
Visit a doctor right away if you experience these symptoms and they persist longer than a few weeks. They will be able to perform some blood and imaging tests to help them give you an official medical diagnosis.
Treatment and Outlook
The treatment and outlook of a patient’s disease always depend on a few essential factors—the patient’s stage of lung cancer, overall health, and history of medical treatment and medications. The doctor can choose one or a combination of treatments and therapies like chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, immunotherapies, and targeted treatment, to name a few.
After a series of tests, the doctor will give their best medical opinion on the patient’s disease outlook.
After asbestos was determined to be a cancer-causing substance, lawmakers made use of the mineral illegal in several capacities. There are national regulations that hold building owners, managers, and contractors responsible for ensuring their structures are free of all toxic chemicals and substances before allowing employees or residents to frequent the area.
If you or a loved one believe you were exposed to asbestos in the workplace and have been diagnosed with squamous cell lung cancer or other illness, you could have the option of filing a personal claim and receiving financial compensation for your trouble. You don’t have to go through this alone.