Scientists recently discovered the true cause of asbestos-related cancers. It’s not the asbestos fibers themselves; it’s what the fibers do once they are in a person’s lungs.
Why does this distinction matter? Those suffering from mesothelioma, asbestosis or lung cancer due to exposure to asbestos simply want a cure. Fortunately, figuring out the “how” allows researchers to get to the bottom of these fatal diseases, helping them find treatments, cures and preventative measures.
An explanation of how asbestos fibers lead to cancer
In the Swiss study that was published in ScienceDaily on March 8, 2018, researchers laid out the mechanics of the process:
- Asbestos fibers are inhaled by a person who is exposed to them in one way or another — you may encounter them at work or on the clothes of someone who was.
- The fibers pass through your lungs to a membrane or sac (called the mesothelium) that surrounds and protects a number of your internal organs.
- The fibers get stuck in called your mesothelium, continuously damaging the tissue there.
- If enough fibers are inhaled all at once or over a long period of time, the membrane becomes chronically inflamed due to the tears in the tissue.
- Your body will automatically attack any introduced foreign substances and bad bacteria. However, it cannot rid itself of these long, pointed fibers.
- White blood cells sent to the mesothelium by your immune system create the perfect storm for cancer development.
- It is this persistent battle between your body’s immune system and the asbestos fibers that causes cells in the mesothelium to become cancerous.
During the study, researchers also noticed mutations of RNA, the molecules that deliver genetic messages to and from DNA to other parts of the cellular level of the body.
Providing help for the future
While there is much more work to be done, this discovery will help scientists treat — and maybe prevent — asbestos-related diseases in the future. Until that happens, many mesothelioma victims and their families will continue to suffer. Make sure you are receiving the care and finances you need to fight back.