We are probably all familiar with the dangers of asbestos in your rooftop or in various pieces of old equipment as it has been shown that the microscopic asbestos particles reach our lungs and can then potentially cause lung cancer.

Now smoking (for example) can cause cancer because of various carcinogens chemically interacting with DNA, but how can these asbestos particles, specifically prized for being quite unreactive, damage DNA to the point of triggering cancer?

  • $\begingroup$ I don't have time to look this up right now, but I think the particles stay in the lung for quite some time and physically damage the cells there - the resulting necessary increased regeneration increases the likelihood of mutations and therefore cancer occurring. $\endgroup$
    – Nicolai
    Commented Aug 27, 2017 at 10:11

2 Answers 2


More basic answer; the asbestos crystals have hooks. So the cilia in the lungs have difficulty moving them out with the other dust. This irritates the tissue causing the effects of the first answer. So it is a matter of time and number of asbestos particles that increases the probability of a cancer. Decades ago , the asbestos miners in Africa typically worked for years ( eg 20 years) before getting cancer.


There are basically three hypotheses regarding the pathogenesis of asbestos-induced cancer , which may be summarized as follows:

(1) the "oxidative stress theory" is based on the fact that phagocytic cells that engulf asbestos fibers produce large amounts of free radicals due to their inability to digest the fibers, and epidemiological studies indicating that iron-containing asbestos fibers appear more carcinogenic;

(2) the "chromosome tangling theory" postulates that asbestos fibers damage chromosomes when cells divide; and

(3) the "theory of adsorption of many specific proteins as well as carcinogenic molecules" states that asbestos fibers in vivo concentrate proteins or chemicals including the components of cigarette smoke.


  • $\begingroup$ Please add some references to your answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 27, 2017 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ @AkramQaasim Feel free to check the edit. Please don't copy paste from the source. $\endgroup$
    – JM97
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ @JM97 sorry for that .but i copied the only question related answer just for shortcut the source . Thanks $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 17:18

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