Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer and the Benefits of Early Detection
As with most cancers, asbestos-related lung cancers typically have a better prognosis when they are detected in an earlier stage. Patients have a wider range of treatment options, and the tumors typically respond more positively to the therapies. Unfortunately, most patients are diagnosed later in their cancer’s progression and receive a prognosis of less than a year.
One study found that two thirds of non-small cell lung cancer patients are not candidates for curative resection at the time of diagnosis. This is because their tumors have progressed too far across the body. While the patients still benefitted from palliative chemotherapy, they could have chosen from additional, more aggressive treatment options if they were diagnosed in an earlier stage (stage I or II).
Unfortunately, the long latency period of asbestos-related diseases makes it difficult to diagnose these conditions in an earlier, more treatable stage.
As soon as asbestos lodges itself within a patient’s lungs, it can begin causing biological changes. However, asbestos-induced lung cancer tumors typically take several decades to fully develop.
Lung cancer symptoms, such as coughing and breathlessness, may not appear (or become significant for the patient to report) until the cancer reaches stage III or IV. By this time, less than 24 percent of patients achieve five-year survival (Cleveland Clinic, 2011).
Despite the difficulties in diagnosing early-stage lung cancer, people with a history of asbestos exposure can arrange regular screenings to improve their chances of early detection.
Asbestos-Related Disease Screenings for Early Detection
Because asbestos is known to place people at a higher risk for developing lung cancer, anyone who has a history of exposure should consider early detection methods – even if no symptoms are present.
Blood tests can detect lung cancer before symptoms arise. The EarlyCDT lung test kit uses blood samples to detect lung cancer with up to 90 percent accuracy.
Asbestos-related disease screenings can also lead to an early diagnosis. These tests involve physical examinations, imaging scans and lung volume tests that help doctors detect potential abnormalities on the lungs. When evaluating the patient’s results, doctors will look for obvious tumors, as well as more subtle indicators of lung damage, such as scarring or reduced lung volume.
The screenings can also detect other asbestos-related lung conditions, such as:
- Pleural Effusions
If a screening indicates an asbestos-related disease, patients can obtain a referral for additional diagnostic procedures or immediate treatment. Once they receive an official diagnosis, they should begin treatment immediately. With the correct care, up to 73 percent of patients diagnosed with stage I lung cancer can achieve five-year survival. Up to 46 percent of stage II patients can reach the same milestone.
Author bio: Faith Franz researches and writes about health-related issues for The Mesothelioma Center. One of her focuses is living with cancer.
Abbasi, S and Badheeb, A. Prognostic Factors in Advanced Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer Patients. Lung Cancer International. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.hindawi.com/journals/lci/2011/152125/
Cleveland Clinic: Lung Cancer. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/pulmonary/lung-cancer/#s0130
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