Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer caused by the development of abnormal cells which form tumours and attack healthy tissue spreading around the body through the blood and lymphatic systems.
Smoking is the major risk factor in lung cancer with further risks attributed to passive smoking, poor diet, family history of lung cancer and exposure to harmful chemicals including asbestos fibres.
Research first established a link between lung cancer and asbestos in 1955 which prompted worldwide concern and further investigation. It is recognised that smoking accounts for 80% of lung cases and smokers who have sustained heavy exposure to asbestos are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer due to the toxin combinations of tobacco and asbestos.
It follows that many asbestos-related lung cancer cases go undetected in line with the commonly held misconception that ‘it must have been the smoking which caused the cancer’ when in reality this might not be the case. In all lung cancer cases involving smokers it is imperative any asbestos exposure history is properly explored by specialist Solicitors who are experienced in lung cancer compensation claims. NON smokers with heavy exposure also run a high risk of developing lung cancer.
In some lung cancer cases another asbestos-related condition is found, asbestosis, which by its very nature and presence provides strong supportive evidence of an asbestos association. However, in many instances there is no other asbestos condition and therefore an understanding of the exposure history is essential to any potential compensation claim.
The Health and Safety Executive are of the opinion that instances of asbestos-related lung cancer go unreported and could be at a level equivalent to that in mesothelioma cases which indicate over 2,600 new diagnoses each year.
How is asbestos-related lung cancer caused?
When microscopic asbestos fibres are inhaled into the respiratory system the body has a natural defence mechanism which attempts to remove the fibres. Many fibres, typically those which are straight and narrow (as in the case of blue or brown asbestos fibres – ‘amphibole asbestos’) defeat the body’s defences and travel into the lungs where they become lodged. Over prolonged periods of time the fibres cause inflammation and irritate the tissue promoting genetic change and the formation of tumours typically between 15 – 35 years after exposure. The size of the asbestos fibre and position in the lung where it becomes lodged has some implication as to whether lung cancer or mesothelioma develops.
Who is most at risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer?
Asbestos related lung cancer is normally associated to workers who have endured ‘moderate’ levels of asbestos exposure typically 5 – 10 years as one might expect with construction workers and those who have endured ‘heavy exposure’ over a year or more such as somebody who worked in the insulation industry, manufacturing of asbestos products or asbestos spraying.
Other tradesmen at risk with ‘moderate to heavy asbestos exposure’ is likely to include;
- Ship builders
- Heating engineers
- Boiler makers
- Metal workers
- Factory workers
Common symptoms of an asbestos related lung cancer
Common symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer might include;
- Shortage of breath or wheezing
- Stubborn coughs
- Rapid weight loss
- Chest, back and shoulder pain
- Coughing up blood in phlegm
- Frequent infections such as recurring pneumonia or bronchitis
How is asbestos-related lung cancer diagnosed?
Lung cancer can take many years to develop and is diagnosed and treated in a similar way to that of mesothelioma albeit the two diseases differ characteristically.
In the first instance your GP will examine you thoroughly and listen to your lungs with a stethoscope in order to establish if there is any laboured breathing, wheezing or fluid in the lungs. Other aspects of your general health, family history and in particular any symptoms or other concerns you might have will be discussed and it is important you outline details of your earlier exposure to asbestos at your initial physical examination.
In 2015 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidelines to help GP’s recognise signs and symptoms of lung cancer to ensure those affected receive the appropriate tests without undue delay.
A number of investigations are used to provide a detailed lung cancer diagnosis from which a treatment plan will emerge and might include;
A blood test is often required to eliminate other possible causes of the symptoms.
A lung function test might include spirometry which involves blowing through a mouthpiece into a spirometer to measure how well you can inhale and exhale. You will be asked to use maximum effort in this test which could temporarily leave some people feeling tired and lightheaded.
Flow patterns are either normal or abnormal, and if abnormal they show either as an obstructive pattern or a restrictive pattern. An obstructive pattern would indicate some narrowing of the airways in line with average expectations based upon age, height and weight which could include diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma. A restrictive pattern characterised by reduced lung volumes would suggest some scarring or deformity in the lungs which could be due to an interstitial lung disease, trapped lung, pleural scarring, large pleural effusion, chronic empyema and asbestosis.
Spirometry when used in conjunction with other tests can help eliminate certain lung conditions and allow for a clearer diagnosis and treatment of certain lung conditions such as folded lung, COPD, chronic bronchitis, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis (including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) and cystic fibrosis. It can also help to understand the severity of a lung disease, measure the extent of any deterioration and help to assess any benefit derived from any medication.
In lung cancer cases spirometry can be used to evaluate and assess treatments for respiratory symptoms and to determine suitability to certain lung cancer surgical procedures.
An x-ray in many cases will highlight abnormalities in the lungs but is not considered definitive due to difficulties in distinguishing between cancer and other conditions.
CT Scan (computerised tomography)
A CT Scan normally follows a chest x-ray and is a painless process involving a series of x-rays which produce a 3D image of the lungs. A CT Scan can help differentiate malignant from benign disease and will provide reliable information regarding the location and thickness of any tumours in the lungs.
The result of the CT Scan is not always conclusive and further investigation is often necessary.
PET Scan (positron emission tomography)
A PET Scan is a specialised imaging test which can help to identify cancer at an early stage and the presence of active cancer cells not detected by other tests which can help in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Bronchoscopy and biopsy
If anything suspicious is detected a tissue sample will be required to enable microscopic examination (normally by a Pathologist) of the cell types present and if cancerous. A bronchoscopy is one such procedure which involves examination under general anaesthetic of the airways of your lungs via a soft thin tube which is passed through your nose or mouth.
Other forms of biopsy include,
CT or ultrasound guided biopsy – Under local anaesthetic a special type of needle is inserted into the affected area, guided by ultrasound or CT scanner, to enable targeted removal of tissue samples.
Thoracoscopy (also referred to as VATS, video assisted thoracoscopy) – This is a reliable method of obtaining tissue and fluid samples for biopsy which is less invasive than surgical lung biopsy and is normally obtained under general anaesthetic. A thin tube with lighted scope and camera (thoracoscope) is inserted through a cut made in the chest wall which allows for detailed examination of the lung structures.
Mediastinoscopy – This procedure allows examination of the central area between the lungs (mediastinum) by passing a thin soft tube into the chest via a small incision in front of the trachea. Using a camera-scope known as a ‘mediastinoscope’ this allows biopsy of the lymph nodes which is where cancer normally spreads to.
Factors to consider following a diagnosis of lung cancer
Diagnosis of cancer can be overwhelming, both physically and emotionally not only for the sufferer but their loved ones and friends, and the enormity and implication of such a diagnosis cannot be understated.
It is important to remember that survival rates for cancer sufferers has increased dramatically over the last 40 years and whilst lung cancer provides a poor prognosis more emphasis than ever is placed on early detection and access to the best available treatments.
As well as worrying about what is happening right now from a health point of view suffering from cancer inevitably raises other concerns such as planning for the extra costs which are often associated to giving up work, paying for elements of care and covering those extra costs of getting to and from hospital and other treatment centres.
Sufferers coming to terms with the reality of their illness often feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of getting their affairs in order and coping with the knowledge of potential treatment plans and a reduced life-expectancy. People deal differently with their situations but in most instances there are fundamental steps to consider which might help in decision making.
- Consider a second opinion – A second opinion is very important not only to ensure your original diagnosis is correct but also to ensure you receive the most appropriate treatment and you should discuss this with your existing Consultant who will appreciate and understand your position. Are you sure you discussed your exposure history to asbestos with your Consultant or Oncologist?
- Consider your treatment options – Living with lung cancer will require decisions in terms of lifestyle changes and understanding more of the various treatment options, prognosis and availability of clinical trials which you might wish to discuss with your specialist. If you are experiencing symptoms your doctor or cancer nurse specialist (CNS) can help to arrange assessment for an appropriate ‘palliative care treatment plan’ which is an approach to address emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
- Decide on a treatment Plan – Your ultimate treatment options are likely to be decided by the stage of your cancer, your state of health and quality of life issues. Deciding upon any treatment plan is likely to involve many questions being asked of your specialist, such as, which treatment will extend your life the longest, what are the side effects of each treatment, what can be done to improve the quality of your life whilst living with lung cancer, how you might best prepare for your treatments and those lifestyle steps you might take to ensure living the highest quality of life possible.
- Improve your health – Wherever possible you should consider improving your health including diet which can help to maintain your immune system during the stressful and often debilitating period of your treatment. Smoking can exacerbate your condition and should be avoided as too are high stress levels which can be reduced by certain enjoyable activities such as reading, aromatherapy, yoga or indeed any other activity which uplifts you mentally, spiritually or physically.
- Contact us immediately – Lung cancer is a serious life threatening condition which in many cases has been brought about or contributed to by your workplace exposure to asbestos dust and fibres and as such is a condition brought about through no fault of your own. We can provide you with easy and fast access to specialist Industrial Disease solicitors who understand your condition and who will make assessment of your eligibility to compensation. We would also wish to help you with appropriate benefit entitlement with The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Treatments available for asbestos related lung cancer
Various treatments are available and in deciding the most appropriate treatment plan a Doctor will consider several factors such as the type of cancer involved (non-small cell or small cell), the size and position of the cancer, how advanced the cancer is (the stage) and the overall health of the sufferer.
This is mainly used to treat instances of non-small cell lung cancer of which there are three main procedures. However, before any surgery takes place a number of health tests will be required which will include an ‘electrocardiogram’ (ECG) which is used to measure heart performance and ‘spirometry’ which involves the performance and efficiency of your lungs.
Surgery involves making an incision in the chest or side to enable removal of the cancerous cells and might also involve removal of the lymph nodes through which cancer can spread. Surgery typically involves a 5 – 12 day stay in hospital followed by many weeks recovery in which early movement and breathing exercises are encouraged under the supervision of a physiotherapist.
Gentle exercise including walking and swimming will help to regain strength and fitness.
Lobectomy – involves the removal of one or more large lung sections in instances where the cancer is confined to one section of the lung.
Pneumonectomy – involves removal of entire lung when the cancer is located deep within the lung or if the cancer has spread throughout the lung. It is possible to maintain respiratory function following removal of part or an entire lung.
Wedge resection or segmentectomy – Generally used in early stage non-small cell lung cancer where the cancer is small and localised and involves the removal of a small lung section.
Radiotherapy – This involves the use of high energy x-rays to kill and prevent the spread of cancer cells and to help alleviate symptoms of pain. It is also used to help cure non-small cell lung cancer where the sufferer is unfit for surgery. When treating small tumours a special form of radiotherapy known as ‘stereotactic radiotherapy’ can be used as an alternative to surgery.
Radiotherapy can be delivered in three main ways and most commonly in lung cancer cases involves a process known as (1) ‘conventional external beam radiotherapy’ which involves directed beams of radiation onto the affected areas. (2) ‘Stereotactic radiotherapy’ involves a more accurate type of beam delivering high-energy beams to a localised tumour and is often used in the case of small tumours as an alternative to invasive surgery. (3) Internal radiotherapy often forms part of palliative care treatment and is delivered via a catheter containing a piece of radioactive material which is inserted into the lung and placed against the affected area for only a few minutes.
Chemotherapy – Different chemotherapy and anti-cancer drugs are available for different conditions and most treatments are administered ‘in cycles’ by cancer nurses on an outpatient basis at a local hospital or clinic. The drugs can be injected into a vein, through a drip or in the form of a tablet and are designed to kill cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying.
The number of cycles required will depend upon the type and grade of the cancer with most people requiring six courses over a 3 – 6 month period. Chemotherapy for lung cancer cases involves taking a combination of medications.
In addition to surgical, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, lung cancer can also be treated using biological therapies, radiofrequency ablation, cryotherapy and photodynamic therapy.
Improving your lung cancer prognosis
- A prognosis is a doctor’s prediction on the outcome of a disease based upon a set of average national statistics and are therefore presented to a sufferer as a ‘guide only’. Many sufferers are taking on the challenge of their condition and living longer due to improved treatments, care and an improved lifestyle and diet.
- Life expectancy is assessed according to various factors which include, the type and stage of the cancer, age, gender and general fitness of sufferer and the type of treatments suitable to a particular individual.
- Many sufferers who take advantage of available treatments and ‘clinical trials’ will outlive their initial prognosis. Sadly, the nature and often late onset of symptoms means that lung cancer is normally diagnosed during the latter stages of the disease after it has spread into the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. If diagnosed early, treatment is likely to be more successful offering a better prognosis.
- Whilst it is recognised you cannot change certain prognostic factors you can be proactive in terms of improving your overall health and well-being by undergoing recommended treatments and dealing positively with any side effects that might occur. If you are a smoker you might consider stopping on account this can cause further lung complications and jeopardise any potential surgery.
- A healthy immune system will help to manage treatments like chemotherapy and fight off diseases which could complicate recovery. Consider improving your diet and wherever possible take exercise which can have a significant impact on your life expectancy.
- Lung cancer can significantly impact a person mentally and emotionally and it is important people do not become isolated and are encouraged to reach out for support and help wherever required. Understanding how people deal with the sadness and grief of their diagnosis is as important as recognising anxiety and depression which can set in and impact upon treatment and recovery. Talk to your family and friends and others in the same situation.
- Complementary and alternative therapies like meditation, yoga and counselling can improve you well-being.
- Lung cancer sufferers face tough decisions and challenges throughout their treatment process and hopefully many will have family and friends to support them. We understand many of the difficulties you are facing right now and would be pleased to speak with you regarding immediate access to specialist Industrial Disease solicitors. We can also arrange contact with another organisation or charity on your behalf to see what other help might be available. Call us today on FREEPHONE 0808 164 6018.
Compensation & government benefits for lung cancer
- Compensation is available to lung cancer sufferers and is set at a level to reflect the nature this terrible disease and give regard to those life changing costs and financial losses which inevitably follow and impact upon many families. Whilst compensation cannot bring back a loved one, reverse a diagnosis or restore former good health it can help to provide some financial peace of mind to sufferers and their families at a very difficult time in their lives. Call us today on FREEPHONE 0808 164 6018, let us call you back, claim online or visit our LIVE CHAT.
- We can provide fast access to experienced specialist industrial disease solicitors are waiting to speak to you to discuss all aspects of your case and provide reassurance as to how they would seek to progress your claim.
- Compensation settlement for lung cancer involves high value awards and wherever possible it would be our intention to obtain you an early interim payment. Compensation is obtained from those former employers and/or their relevant insurance companies who negligently exposed you to asbestos fibres in the workplace.
- Sufferers of asbestos-related lung cancer might also be eligible to seek the non-means tested benefit, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) which is paid by The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).