Asbestos-related diseases generally affect the lungs and are caused by exposure to asbestos and the inhalation of asbestos fibres, which can cause scarring in the lungs. The scarring can worsen over time and lead to the development of diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, pleural thickening and pleural plaques.
Who will suffer from asbestos-related diseases?
People who have worked in occupations with a high risk of exposure to asbestos dust are at the highest risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. However, a person could also be exposed to asbestos in their domestic life, for example, if a family member brought asbestos dust into their home on work clothes.
What are the main asbestos-related diseases?
There are a number of diseases that commonly occur in those that have been exposed to asbestos:
Asbestosis is a lung disease that currently has no cure. Characterised by a diffuse pulmonary fibrosis, more commonly known as a scarring of the lung tissues, it is caused by the inhalation of excessive amounts of asbestos fibres.
Mesothelioma is a very aggressive, treatment resistant cancerous tumour that affects the lining that covers the outer surface of most of the body’s organs. The most common form is pleural mesothelioma, this affects the pleura of the lung (the thin membrane surrounding the lungs). The second most common form is peritoneal mesothelioma, this affects the lining of the abdominal cavity. Mesothelioma can also affect the lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) and the testes (testicular mesothelioma).
Pleural thickening is the thickening, calcification or scarring of the pleura (linings of the lung). This mainly affects the inner surface of the lungs.
Lung cancer develops when lung tissue cells become abnormal and grow out of control. Over time they form a clump known as a tumour.
Pleural plaques are areas of scar tissue on the thin membrane surrounding the lungs, also known as the pleura. This is the most common type of benign (non-cancerous) pleural disease.