The story of how asbestos has harmed modern society is one of the most important of the last 100 years, and yet it is still not discussed nearly enough. Through the actions of a select few people, countless individuals became victims, and families were harmed permanently. The many deaths are bad enough, and the toll gets even worse when adding up all of the people who managed to live but had their health severely damaged along the way. 

Understanding all the terminology: Asbestos, Carcinogen, Cancer

For those who haven’t dealt face-on with the issue of asbestos-related disease, the whole landscape can be a little confusing. There are many terms that are thrown about which relate to asbestos and the harm that it does, and plenty of television commercials and other media sources have probably only added to the sense of confusion held by the general public. This article will clear up at least one of the confusing points, so everyone impacted can be on the same page. 

A Simple Answer

To provide a direct, simple answer to the question presented in the title of this article, no – asbestos is not a form of cancer. This is an easy misunderstanding to have, however, as asbestos is a carcinogen, meaning it is a material that can cause cancer in humans. So, asbestos is not the cancer itself, but rather, exposure to it certainly can lead to the development of cancer later on. 

When thinking about cancer that is associated with asbestos, it’s typically mesotelioma that comes to mind. This is a particularly aggressive, dangerous cancer that normally doesn’t see patients survive very long after the initial diagnosis. And, since it is found almost exclusively in people who were exposed to asbestos at some point in the past, there is a concern for anyone who used to work in an environment where asbestos was used, or for people who lived with someone who worked in such a setting. Also, lung cancer is a concern for people who were exposed – especially those who smoked, as well. 

¿Qué es el asbesto? 

So, if asbestos isn’t a type of cancer, what is it[1]? Perhaps surprisingly to many people, asbestos is a naturally occurring material[2] that was mined and used for a wide range of industrial and commercial applications. The term asbestos refers to a collection of different fibers, but one of the common characteristics of those fibers is their incredible strength and durability. 

Asbestos is a mineral with incredible resistance to heat, chemicals, electricity, and pressure. But its durability is also what makes asbestos such a health hazard.

This is what made them so attractive to businesses generations ago – the products that were created with asbestos could be expected to last and last. And, as an added bonus, it was cheap and abundant, leading industries to think they had stumbled on essentially a magic solution for many manufacturing problems.

However, it was precisely the benefits of asbestos fibers that turned out to make them so dangerous. Since they are tiny and can easily float around in the air, humans breathing while working around asbestos are sure to inhale and ingest some of the fibers. Then, once those fibers are inside the body, they are going to linger for a very long time. The same durability that made them so attractive is what wound up leading to various forms of cancer and the tragic health impact[3] that was seen in many places around the world. 

An Extreme Delay

In some cases, being exposed to a dangerous material or product can lead to illness right away, or in the very near future. That’s not the case with asbestos. With these fibers, the problems tend to come many years – even decades – after exposure. This is what allowed so many people to be harmed for so long before the impacts really started to become clear. For decades, asbestos was used widely, and it seemed like everything was fine, although people within industries that used asbestos did know that health problems were coming, and they didn’t take the right steps to protect their workers and the public. 

If someone worked in an environment around asbestos decades ago, it’s possible that they will only now start to experience the symptoms. That’s why this is still such a relevant topic even though the widespread use of asbestos was banned many years ago. People who were relatively young when working with asbestos in the ‘80s, for example, might only now be dealing with asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, etc. 

Doing Some Research

Learning about asbestos exposure and how it can cause cancer many years later.

For some people, it might be hard to remember if the places they worked in many years ago were using asbestos actively. Or, since second-hand exposure is a concern, it might be hard to remember all of the places that a parent or spouse worked, and whether or not they would have been exposed – and could have been bringing the fibers home. Fortunately, there are comprehensive repositories like the W.A.R.D. database, available to dig up this information and work on figuring out if exposure is something that needs to be worried about. If so, seeking prompt medical help right away is an important first step. 

Getting the Right Assistance

Asbestos is not cancer, but it certainly has been to blame for countless cases of cancer over the last few decades. Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos in the past is at an elevated risk of developing various types of cancers. Specifically, lung cancer and mesothelioma are strongly linked to asbestos exposure. Although asbestos has been tightly regulated for decades, the exposure that happened long ago is still cause for concern because of the incredibly long latency involved with asbestos-related diseases.

 As a result of harming so many people, the companies responsible for exposing countless individuals and their families to asbestos have been required to pay damages totaling billions of dollars. 

Anyone who has been exposed and has suffered some type of health impact as a result should at least contact an experienced attorney to learn more about the available options and consider pursuing the compensation to which they may be entitled. This can be a long process so getting started right away is the best plan.


[1] https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/asbestos

[2] https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-031-24541-1_6

[3] https://genesenvironment.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s41021-021-00215-0