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Lung cancer compensation claims

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the lung, the windpipe (the trachea) or the main airway (the bronchus).  It is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK and over 40,000 people are diagnosed with the illness each year.

If the cancer begins in the lung then it is known as primary lung cancer.  If the cancer originates in another part of the body but then spreads to the lungs then it is known as secondary lung cancer.

The two main types of lung cancer are non-small-cell lung cancer and small-cell lung cancer.  Non-small-cell lung cancer is the more common type and is thought to be responsible for about 80-85% of all cases.  Small-cell lung cancer is less common.  The type of lung cancer may determine what type of treatment is offered.

Lung cancer is a different disease to mesothelioma which is a type of cancer that usually affects the lining of the lungs (called the pleura) as well as the linings of some other organs.

Can lung cancer be caused by asbestos exposure?

Asbestos is one of a number of potential causes of lung cancer.  It is thought that about 85% of all lung cancers are caused by smoking.  However, it is well established that people who smoke and are exposed to asbestos have much higher risks of developing lung cancer than smokers who were not exposed.  Studies have shown that in groups of workers who were exposed to asbestos the risk of getting lung cancer was increased by five times in non-smokers but by fifty times in smokers.

If lung cancer develops in the presence of asbestosis (insert link) then doctors will normally accept that asbestos has played a role in causing the lung cancer.  If asbestosis is not present then you will need to show that you were exposed to substantial quantities of asbestos.

There is no clinical way for doctors to prove whether lung cancer is caused by asbestos exposure, smoking or by both.  This means that it can be difficult to establish the cause in individual cases.

The Health and Safety Executive note that research indicates that there may be about twice as many asbestos related lung cancer cases as there are cases of mesothelioma.  However, in recent years there have only been about 300 cases of asbestos related lung cancers being recognised by the government in relation to applications for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.  This suggests that sufferers of asbestos related lung cancer may be going under-compensated.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

There may not be symptoms in the early stages of the illness but many people will go on to develop symptoms which may include:
  • Coughing up blood
  • A persistent cough
  • Persistent breathlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • An ache or pain
  • Recurring chest infections

There are other possible symptoms and this list is not intended to be prescriptive.

If you notice any worrying symptoms you should make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.

How is lung cancer diagnosed?

Your GP will ask you about your health and any symptoms that you have had.  You may be asked to have some breathing and blood tests as well as a chest x-ray.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidelines in 2015 to help GPs recognise the signs and symptoms of lung cancer and ensure that patients are quickly referred for the correct tests.  Please see the NICE 2015 guidelines on Suspected Cancer: Recognition and Referral for further details.

A chest x-ray is usually one of the first tests to try to diagnose lung cancer, although it may not provide a definitive diagnosis.  You will normally be referred to a specialist at a hospital and further tests may be carried out such as a CT scan, PET-CT scan, bronchoscopy and biopsy.  A bronchoscopy is a procedure that allows a small sample of cells to be taken from the lungs.  Other types of biopsies may be carried out in some circumstances.

These tests will normally confirm the diagnosis and if it is lung cancer, what stage it is at, whether it has spread elsewhere and what this means for your treatment.

Is there any treatment for lung cancer?

The treatment and prognosis for lung cancer depends on a number of factors including the type of cancer, the stage that the cancer is at and the general health of the person who has been diagnosed.  

There are various forms of treatments that are potentially available.  Treatments might include radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery.  There are other forms of treatment.  Your treating doctors and nurses will be able to provide more information.

Can I claim compensation if I have asbestos related lung cancer?

If you have been diagnosed with asbestos related lung cancer then you should seek legal advice about your entitlement to compensation.  It is important to instruct a specialist asbestos solicitor who is experienced in acting for asbestos sufferers.  They will be able to advise you whether you have a possible claim.

It may be possible to prove a claim for asbestos related lung cancer where you have been exposed to heavy levels of asbestos exposure at work or to moderate levels of asbestos exposure for a period of 5-10 years or more. 

A specialist solicitor will help to advise you whether you have a good claim.

If the claim is successful you will recover compensation for the impact that the illness has on your lifestyle and the physical effects it causes you.  This is known as damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity.  You may also be able to claim compensation for out of pocket expenses, any loss of earnings and for care you might receive if you are unwell and need help.  If you are no longer able to do DIY, gardening and other types of domestic tasks then you can claim for loss of your services.  Compensation levels for lung cancer claims vary considerably depending on the facts of each particular case.  If your life expectancy has been reduced then you may be able to claim for the loss of income that you would have received in the future but for your illness. You can find out more information about how claims work in our asbestos: frequently asked questions section.

Claims can also be brought if somebody has passed away from suspected asbestos related lung cancer.  Therefore, it is important that the Coroner is notified if it is believed that somebody suffered from asbestos related lung cancer so that special medical tests can be carried out as part of the post mortem process to try to assess the levels of asbestos fibres present in the lungs.  This can be done by pathologists using special high-powered microscopes.  If a post mortem is not carried out and these tests are not undertaken then it may prove difficult to establish whether or not the lung cancer was asbestos related and it may not be possible to bring a claim as a result.

There are time limits for bringing claims for personal injuries such as asbestos diseases.  Therefore, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Am I entitled to benefits?

If you have been diagnosed with asbestos related lung cancer then you may be entitled to state benefits.  Specifically, you are entitled to apply for a weekly payment called Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.  If this is awarded then you might also be entitled to receive a lump sum payment from the government under the Pneumoconiosis, etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979.  It is important to seek advice regarding your potential entitlements.  If you require care and assistance because of your illness then you may be eligible to receive other benefits in addition.

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