A while ago, I posted a series of stories from an interview with Rear Adm. Phil Coady (ret.) the Chairman of the Board of the Lung Cancer Alliance. In the interview, he talked about pulmonary fibrosis. Since that time, I’ve had several people wondering if pulmonary fibrosis is connected to asbestos or mesothelioma.
The American Lung Association explains that pulmonary fibrosis is also called interstitial pulmonary fibrosis or interstitial lung disease (ILD). These three terms are often used to describe the same condition.
ILD is not lung cancer; it is a chronic lung disorder. ILD involves a thickening of the lung tissue, which becomes stiff and makes breathing more difficult and demanding. ILD can take many forms, and may progress slowly or rapidly, depending on the individual and the nature of the ILD.
The Lung Association reports that the common link in ILD is that it begins with inflammation, which may affect different parts of the lung. Inflammation may lead to permanent scarring of the lung tissue, which is often called pulmonary fibrosis. The interstitum is the tissue between the lung’s air sacs. Scarring begins in this area, which lends the condition its formal name.
Known causes of pulmonary fibrosis include occupational and environmental exposures, including exposure to asbestos, which can damage the lungs and cause scarring (fibrosis).
Other possible causes include a disease called Sarcoidosis, side effects of medication, radiation, connective tissue or collagen diseases, or genetic predisposition, which is not as common. The familial form of the disease is often called familial idiopathic (of unknown origin) pulmonary fibrosis.
When I spoke with Admiral Coady, he mentioned that he did have a family history of pulmonary fibrosis. He knew that his family history, combined with his exposure to asbestos while serving in the Navy, put him at greater risk for the disease, and was vigilant about early screening. He did eventually develop the condition. Sadly, he also later developed lung cancer, although not mesothelioma.
Some ILD improves with medication if treated when inflammation occurs, and some people also need oxygen therapy as part of their treatment.