Risk with Asbestos Exposure and Smoking

OncoLink Team
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: May 7, 2013

Question

Is a person more likely to get mesothelioma or lung cancer from asbestos exposure if they smoke?

Answer

James Stevenson, MD, Medical Oncologist at Penn Medicine, responds:

You would be more likely to get lung cancer because we know that asbestos and cigarette smoking together significantly increases your risk of developing lung cancer greater than either factor alone. The risk of getting mesothelioma following asbestos exposure, whether or not you smoke, is still significantly smaller than that for lung cancer in a smoker. Also, the time from smoking to developing lung cancer is often shorter than the time from asbestos exposure to the development of mesothelioma. Furthermore, lung cancer is much more common than mesothelioma, with approximately 226,160 people diagnosed in the United States each year, compared with only approximately 2,500-3,000 people for mesothelioma.

Answer

Dan Sterman, MD, Interventional Pulmonologist at Penn Medicine, Adds:

There is no known association between cigarette smoking and mesothelioma, except for a small number of patients who smoked Kent brand cigarettes in the 1950's, which were made with asbestos containing filters.

Learn more about mesothelioma risk on OncoLink.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entire Focus on Mesothelioma transcript.

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