Asbestosis Related lung Disease

Asbestos injures the lungs and surrounding tissues in several ways. The mere exposure to asbestos causes inflammation in the pleural space, which is the membrane lining the lungs. It also inflames the surface of the diaphragm, the large muscle between the thorax and abdomen that helps us breathe in and out. Asbestos exposure leaves classic changes on chest x-rays and CT scans, revealing calcification along the pleural space and diaphragm. The calcification itself is not actually harmful, but only serves as a marker of the exposure.

Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a deadly malignancy of the lining around the lungs. It occurs almost exclusively in people exposed to asbestos and has no effective treatment. Unfortunately, mesothelioma can occur years after the exposure to asbestos, and it is not strictly dependent on the amount of exposure. Some people exposed to large amounts of asbestos over many years may never develop mesothelioma, whereas some unlucky people might develop it with a relatively small exposure.

Asbestos exposure sometimes leads to a disease called asbestosis. Asbestosis is caused when inhaled asbestos fibers lodge in the lungs causing scarring, inflammation and destruction of tissue. It usually develops many years after the initial asbestos exposure. In some cases the delay between exposure and the onset of asbestosis can be as long as twenty-five years. Symptoms vary widely. Some patients have almost no symptoms, whereas others suffer from severe shortness of breath, fatigue and cough.

Asbestos exposure also increases the risk of lung cancer. Non-smokers exposed to asbestos have about ten times the risk of developing lung cancer in their lifetime as those never exposed to asbestosis.  Smokers exposed to asbestos are sixty to seventy times as likely to contract lung cancer as non-smokers with no asbestos exposure.

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