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Lesson 11

Asbestos-Related Diseases

There are no current cures for diseases caused by asbestos.

Asbestos is a risk to health if its fibres are breathed in and the greater the contact with asbestos fibres the greater the risk of one of these diseases developing.

Any exposure to asbestos fibres should always be considered as very dangerous.

Read the table below on the types of illnesses and diseases that can be caused by asbestos.

Name Effects

  • An aggressive and incurable tumour caused by asbestos arising from mesothelial cells of the pleura, peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity)
  • Pleural mesothelioma is its most common type (about 3/4 of cases)
  • Symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic chest pain, coughing, weight loss
  • Development of mesothelioma can take between 20 to 60 years
  • Almost all mesothelioma cases relate to occupational exposure to asbestos fibre
  • It is always fatal

  • Chronic lung disease caused by scarring of lung tissue, which results from prolonged exposure to asbestos
  • It initially affects the lung bases and usually manifests after 15 or more years from initial exposure
  • Symptoms include wheezing and shortness of breath
Lung cancer

  • Exposure to asbestos is associated with all major histological types of lung carcinoma
  • Between exposure and development of lung cancer is 20 to 30 years
  • 3%-8% of all lung cancers are estimated to be related to asbestos
  • Smokers exposed to asbestos have a higher risk of developing lung cancer
Asbestos warts

  • Caused when the sharp fibres lodge in the skin and are overgrown causing benign callus-like growths
Pleural plaques

  • Discrete fibrous or partially calcified thickened area which can be seen on X-rays of individuals exposed to asbestos
  • In some patients this develops into pleural thickening
Diffuse pleural thickening

  • Similar to Pleural plaques and can be associated with asbestosis
  • Usually no symptoms shown but if exposure is extensive, it can cause lung impairment

  • Some reports have also linked the condition of pneumothorax to asbestos related diseases
Pericardial mesothelioma

  • Incredibly rare form of cancer, pericardial mesothelioma is located in the lining of the heart (the pericardium)
  • It is the least common form of asbestos-related cancer, with most cases only identified after an autopsy
  • Symptoms affect cardiovascular operation, resulting in chest pain, heart murmurs, arrhythmia, variation to the pulse and fluid build up in the heart (pericardial effusion)