Green circle with question mark inside Most likely or definitely true

Red circle with X insideFalse/misinformation

Gray circle with question mark insideWe’re not sure yet

Change or refine your search

Asbestos causes cancer

What you may have heard

Exposure to asbestos causes cancer.

What science tells us

Asbestos was a construction material (used primarily in insulation) and can be found in buildings built before 2000.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has labeled asbestos as a known carcinogen. It causes cancer by scarring lung tissue whenever its fibers are breathed in. The two most common types of cancer linked with asbestos are lung cancer and mesothelioma (ACS). There is also a link between asbestos and ovarian and laryngeal cancer rates.

Epidemiological Evidence

Several epidemiological studies have shown that exposure to asbestos increases the risk of mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. One study based in Taiwan among workers in the jade processing industry showed an increased risk of lung cancer (Lin et al.). Another population-based cohort study also found that those living near asbestos producing manufacturing plants also had higher rates of mesothelioma and lung cancer compared to the general population (Zha et al.). Case control studies also found that those who were exposed to asbestos had a higher risk of developing lung cancer (Minowa et al.).

Laboratory Evidence/Supporting Evidence

Several animal studies have shown that exposure to asbestos is harmful in animals and can cause several types of cancers including mesothelioma.

IARC Carcinogen Classification: Group 1 (Carcinogenic to humans)

How to reduce your risk

Since the early 2000s, many countries have banned the use of asbestos in construction, with active efforts to remove asbestos from buildings built before 2000 as well, especially in the United States (ACS).

To ensure that your exposure to asbestos is low, check when your home, workplace, and any other buildings you’re often in were built. If any of them were built before 2000, check to see if they have been renovated and/or inspected for asbestos. Most buildings have, but if you are unsure, contact the ACS, as they spearhead the removal and testing of asbestos (NIOSH).

Bottom line

Asbestos is a known carcinogen, but for most people, asbestos exposure is not a concern. To ensure that your exposure is low, verify that your home and workplace are up to national standards.

American Cancer Society (ACS): Known and probable human carcinogens
American Cancer Society (ACS): Asbestos and cancer risk
CDC and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): Asbestos
Increased Standardised Incidence Ratio of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma in Taiwanese Asbestos Workers: A 29-Year Retrospective Cohort Study
Population-based cohort study on health effects of asbestos exposure in Japan
A case-control study of lung cancer with special reference to asbestos exposure


Published: July 6, 2021
Verified/updated: August 22, 2022