Asbestos Related Diseases

Asbestos Related Diseases


What is an asbestos-related disease?


There are several different kinds of diseases that are related to previous exposure to asbestos fibres, and they can be categorised invarious ways. Some are malignant or cancerous - such as mesothelioma and lung cancer - others such as asbestosis, pleural plaques, diffuse pleural fibrosis, are considered benign conditions such as lung cancer and mesothelioma can be and are often severely disabling. The other more benign conditions can, but rarely produce the symptoms and are less disabling than the malignant diseases.

Some of the above are very clearly and directly attributable to exposure to asbestos, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. For others, such as gastro-intestinal tract cancers, the causal connection to asbestos exposure is one that appears probable but has not yet been proven with certainty.

The diseases for which asbestos exposure is a generally accepted cause are mesothelioma, asbestosis, small airway fibrosis, scarring, pleural plaques, pleural fibrosis, pleural effusion, and many lung cancers. Diseases for which asbestos exposure is not at this time generally accepted as the cause, include cancers of the kidney, GI tract and ovary.

Each of these asbestos-related diseases can only be diagnosed through medical examinations and tests. If you were exposed to asbestos it does not mean that you therefore must have, or will have, an asbestos-caused disease. But it does mean that you should be vigilant about your health, receive regular medical care and checkups and tell your doctor about your asbestos exposure.


Types of disease -




Asbestosis is a type of fibrosis or scarring of the lungs caused by asbestos fibres which have been lodged in the lungs after inhalation. Fibrosis causes the lung to contract resulting in breathlessness. Asbestosis particularly affects people who have breathed in substantial amounts of asbestos dust in the course of their work It usually takes a long time to show after initial inhalation of the dust, as much as 20 or 30 years after exposure. Once the scarring has begun, asbestosis is irreversible. Asbestosis victims can develop complications which can sometimes be fatal, such as heart disease and lung infections.


Pleural Thickening


The pleura consists of a double layered membrane which surrounds the lungs and lines the inside of the rib cage. Certain asbestos fibres inhaled into the lungs manipulate their way out to the pleura and can cause fibrosis or scaring to occur there. This has the effect of causing the pleura to thicken and therefore may show up on a chest X Ray. Pleural thickening occurs in two forms.


Diffuse Pleural Thickening


This extends over a large area and may restrict expansion of the lungs, leading to breathlessness.


Pleural Plaques


These a re localised areas of pleural thickening which normally do not interfere with breathing.




Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lungs, and can be called malignant pleural mesothelioma The disease can also affect the lining of the stomach and when it does it is known as peritoneal mesothelioma. Both diseases are almost always caused by exposure to asbestos and unfortunately can prove fatal for some sufferers. Prognosis (or course of the disease) in this disease is difficult to assess as there are differences in the symptoms that each patient will present with, as well as varying rates that each patient's disease will progress. Many patients will be told that the average survival for someone with the disease can be as short as a few months to 12-18 months. These are averages and it must be stressed that each patient and their particular condition is very different and individual.


Click HERE to download The Mesothelioma Information Booklet 2005 written By Mavis Robinson MBE, RGN, HV


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Lung Cancer


Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing lung cancer. A very important point is that asbestos exposure and smoking act together to produce a huge Increase in risk of lung cancer in people exposed to both hazards. Fortunately this means that people who have been exposed to asbestos can greatly reduce the risk of lung cancer by not smoking.




Unfortunately the damage done by asbestos cannot be reversed and it has been said that the disease is one of the most difficult diseases that doctors, patients and their families have to face. There are a number of points that doctors have to consider when deciding about the treatment of mesothelioma. These include type of cells involved in the disease, extent of the disease and the physical condition of the patient.

Regrettably treatment of the disease is not often successful. Surgery has been carried out in some cases (especially abroad) but this is not carried out on a large scale in Scotland and unfortunately it is not every patient that is fit for this major and aggressive procedure. Radiotherapy can be given to patients who have had chest drains and biopsies taken to reduce the risk of spread of the disease from these sates and also in some cases to relieve pain. This type of treatment must not be seen as an attempt to cure the disease.

Another treatment that patients ask about is chemotherapy. At the moment there is no one chemotherapy drug that can be said to regress the condition and in some instances chemotherapy is only tiled in clinical trials. Patients have the opportunity to talk over their concerns about treatment with their doctor, who will explain the reasons for and against certain treatments. He/she is the best person to seek advice from another surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, as well as medication and any other issues.




As with most illnesses prevention is better than cure and strict regulations now exist to prevent dangerous levels of exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is gradually being removed from situations in buildings where it might prevent a hazard. The British Government has now banned the import of chrysolite asbestos into this country from 24th November 1999.


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