Asbestos Related Diseases

Asbestos diseases are medical conditions caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos has long been linked with a variety of serious health concerns

A fibrous group of minerals that is carcinogenic (cancer causing) when inhaled, asbestos commonly was used as a source of insulation for a variety of commercial and industrial purposes. Asbestos exposure was a common occurrence for many blue-collar workers.

The different types of asbestos disease include:
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Malignant Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is the most serious type of the various diseases caused by asbestos.

There are up to 3,000 new cases of malignant mesothelioma diagnosed each year in the United States alone (where asbestos has been regulated since 1970) and the disease is believed to be responsible for more than 200,000 deaths worldwide.

Malignant mesothelioma is a somewhat rare type of cancer that has been linked exclusively with asbestos exposure.  With most cancers doctors can only talk about an increase in risk called a risk factor but there is no causal link.  With mesothelioma the link is so strong that the medical literature states that asbestos causes mesothelioma, rather than just saying it is a risk factor.

There are three types of mesothelioma, each affecting a different section of mesothelial tissue:

  • Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of malignant mesothelioma (accounting for an approximately 70 to 80% of all documented cases), affecting the mesothelial tissue lining the lung cavity (pleura).
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common type of malignant mesothelioma (roughly 10% to 20% of all documented cases) affecting the mesothelial tissue lining the abdominal cavity (peritoneum).
  • Pericardial mesothelioma is a less common type of malignant mesothelioma (accounting for less than 10% of all documented cases), affecting the mesothelial tissue lining the heart sac (pericardium).
  • Tunica vaginalis testi mesothelioma is a very rare form of malignant mesothelioma affecting the mesothelial tissue lining the testicles.  It is sometimes refered to as gonadal mesothelioma.



Lung Cancer

Cigarette smoking causes most lung cancers, but long term exposure to asbestos is also a cause of lung cancer. People who smoke and have been exposed to asbestos have a very high risk of developing the disease.

There are two main types of lung cancer. Small cell lung carcinoma is common to smokers. Non-small cell lung carcinoma has three main forms, including:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma the most common form of lung cancer. This starts in the large air passages, called bronchi.

  • Large cell carcinoma similar to squamous cell carcinoma.

  • Adenocarcinoma starts in glands found in the lining of the airways.


Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory medical condition affecting the parenchymal tissue of the lungs. It occurs after long-term, heavy exposure to asbestos,
e.g. in mining, and is therefore regarded as an occupational lung disease. Sufferers have severe dyspnea (shortness of breath) and are at an increased risk regarding several different types of lung cancer.

As clear explanations are not always stressed in non-technical literature, care should be taken to distinguish between several forms of relevant diseases.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), these may be defined as; asbestosis (the subject of this article), lung cancer, and mesothelioma (generally a very rare form of cancer, but increasing in frequency as people exposed to asbestos age).

Diffuse Pleural Thickening

Diffuse pleural thickening of the tissue surrounding the lungs and other organs is less specific to asbestos exposure than for pleural plaque development. Thickening and fibrosis of the visceral pleura occurs with fusion to the parietal pleura over a wide area.

Diffuse pleural thickening may result from exudative pleural effusions secondary to asbestos exposure, but other causes of pleural disease may also cause thickening (e.g. haemothorax, connective tissue diseases, tuberculosis, chest surgery, drugs such as methysergide and parapneumonic effusions).

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Normal Healthy lung
lung affected by malignant mesothelioma

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