Asbestos-Related Disease Conditions

Numerous diseases have been attributed to exposure to asbestos. Most are explicitly related to inhaling asbestos fibers and impact the lungs and the organs immediately connected to the lungs, though there are also illnesses affecting other areas of the body that have been attributed to swallowing asbestos fibers and even to asbestos entering the body through the vagina following use of asbestos-contaminated talc for feminine hygiene purposes.

Breathing in asbestos fibers is a common hazard among those who work in occupational settings where there are high concentrations of asbestos dust. It can also take place following second-hand exposure to asbestos on a loved one’s clothing, hair or skin, or from living in areas where naturally-occurring asbestos is present or where there is exposure to deteriorating asbestos in a structure.

The following conditions are related to inhaling asbestos. Some create chronic conditions that impact the quality of life, while others are fatal illnesses.

Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques are fibrous patches of thickening tissue that form in the lining of the lungs. They are the most common asbestos-related disease, occurring in more than half of workers who are exposed to the harmful mineral. They generally appear twenty to thirty years after exposure to asbestos. Pleural plaques are made of collagen that arranges itself in a basket-weave pattern and calcifies: they are usually found in the lower portions of the chest. They can cause chest pain and can restrict pulmonary function, but those symptoms are not always the case. They are not considered pre-malignant.


Asbestos is a chronic condition that is caused by lung tissue becoming inflamed and eventually forming permanent scarring following prolonged exposure to asbestos. The condition first appears approximately 15 years after a concentrated exposure to asbestos, and the condition is progressive and continues to worsen years after the exposure takes place. As the walls of the lungs thicken, it restricts the patient’s ability to breath fully and leads to shortness of breath and an increased risk of heart failure. Patients who have been diagnosed with asbestos are also at higher risk for malignant mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer.

Malignant Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of cancer that forms in the cells of an organ called the mesothelium, which is found in the pleural cavity and the peritoneal cavity of the body. The condition is extremely rare, diagnosed in roughly 3,500 Americans every year, and is always fatal. Mesothelioma’s symptoms depend upon the part of the body where the tumors form, with pleural mesothelioma resulting in shortness of breath, a chronic cough and chest pain and peritoneal mesothelioma’s symptoms including stomach pain, unexplained weight loss and lumps appearing on the abdomen. The symptoms first appear decades after initial exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Asbestos-related lung cancer takes the same forms as lung cancers caused by cigarette smoking and other causes. It can be large or small-cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma, but it does not begin to show symptoms until twenty to thirty years after exposure to the mineral. Symptoms include a chronic cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Asbestos is the cause of less than 10% of all lung cancers, though smoking cigarettes can increase the risk of an asbestos-exposed person developing asbestos-related lung cancer.

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