The risk of developing mesothelioma does not increase in smokers who are exposed to asbestos according to studies. Smoking is, however, a known risk factor greatly increasing the probability of lung cancer. Combined with exposure to inhaled asbestos, smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer synergistically. That is, the risk of getting lung cancer is greater than the sum of the individual risks of asbestos exposure and smoking added together. And the combination of two cancers, mesothelioma and lung cancer severely reduce the chance of recovery or improvement in the quality of life.
More Complications from Smoking
Smoking is also a cause of obstructive lung disease, such as bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Mesothelioma is a cancer that can cause pleural effusion (inflammation of the pleura and fluid retention,) and thickening of the membrane. This causes a restriction on how deep a breath can be taken. This classifies it as a restrictive lung disease. Restrictive and obstructive lung diseases reduce the amount of oxygen that can move into the bloodstream as it flows through the lungs by different mechanisms. The combination of restrictive and obstructive lung disease, again, causes damage synergistically.
Restrictive lung disease results from pleural effusion (fluid in the pleural space between the visceral and parietal pleura) and thickened tissue. Both conditions impair oxygen getting into the blood. Red blood cells travel away empty or only partly full of oxygen.
- Pleural effusion compresses adjacent lung tissue (alveoli) and blood vessels, preventing oxygenation of blood by reducing the amount of oxygen that can enter the alveoli as well as the amount of blood that flows through those vessels. Often, blood will pass by alveoli that are squeezed closed and pick up no oxygen. This blood mixes with oxygenated blood when it reaches the heart and decreases the overall oxygenation of the blood that is circulated to the body, or hypoxemia. Hypoxemia stresses all of the body’s organs and can lead to permanent brain damage, heart attack, and other complications.
- Thickened tissue obstructs the transfer of oxygen across the membrane. The blood will pass through the tissue to the vessels, but the blood won’t pick up as much oxygen as it can hold because oxygen is not getting through fast enough.
- Thickened tissue increases the distance oxygen must travel, thus the blood picks up less oxygen as it passes through the lung.
- Changes in the pleural mesothelium can include plaques and calcification, limiting the elasticity of the pleura, causing it to become stiff and rigid. This restricts how deep a breath can be taken.
Obstructive lung disease, commonly caused by smoking, includes inflamed, thickened and narrowed airways, inflamed and thickened lung tissue, reduces the amount of air that gets into the lungs, and, consequently, the amount of oxygen that gets into the bloodstream. Obstructions decrease oxygenation because:
- Inflamed lung tissues increase secretions that block the flow of air, or effectively narrow the airway
- Inflamed airways swell inwards, narrowing the airways of the lungs
- Narrowed airways limit how much air can move through the lung. Imagine how much air can be blown through a garden hose vs. how much can be blown through a straw.
- Narrowed airways increase airflow turbulence
- Thickened secretions can become mucus plugs that close off entire branches of airways
- Thickened secretions and plugs, in turn, create ideal conditions for pneumonia
Evidence indicates that people who have been exposed to asbestos can reduce their risk of getting lung cancer if they quit smoking or never smoked. You can avoid additional complications from obstructive lung disease by quitting smoking and avoiding smoky environments.
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestosis, please contact the experienced mesothelioma lawyers in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C. for a free initial consultation.