Asbestos-Related Illnesses

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Mesothelioma:  Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung (the pleura) or the abdomen (peritoneum) that is almost invariably caused by asbestos exposure.  There are very few treatment options for this disease, and it is usually fatal.

Lung Cancer: Lung cancer originates in the lung tissue itself, not the lining of the lung (the pleura).  Smoking and asbestos exposure together can cause a dramatically increased risk of cancer. Non-smokers who have been exposed to asbestos have a five times greater risk of contracting lung cancer.  This compares to a 10-fold increase in the risk of lung cancer for persons who smoke but do not have a history of exposure to asbestos. Workers who have both a history of smoking and of asbestos exposure have a 50 to 100 times greater risk of contracting lung cancer.

Asbestosis:  Asbestosis is the scarring of the lung tissue itself from inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers.  Diagnosis of this disease requires a physical examination, a chest x-ray, and a breathing test. Asbestosis can range in severity from "mild" asbestosis, which causes little, if any, impairment, to "severe" asbestosis, which is disabling and can be fatal. No treatment can cure asbestosis.

Pleural Diseases:  Asbestos can cause benign scarring on the lining of the lung (the pleura).  This scarring is referred to as pleural plaques or pleural thickening.  Persons with pleural plaques or pleural thickening have a higher risk of contracting asbestosis.  Asbestos-induced pleural disease can also cause restrictive breathing impairment.

Asbestos-Related Pleural Disease:The pleura is a thin lining of the chest cavity. The pleura provides a lubricated surface for the lungs to expand and contract against. Following exposure to asbestos, and a latency period of at least ten years, pleural changes may begin to appear on chest x-rays. These changes are called pleural thickening or pleural calcification or "pleural plaques." Pleural plaques alone are usually not symptomatic but they can cause restrictive lung function impairment.

Other Asbestos-Related Cancers: Other types of cancer can also be caused by exposure to asbestos.  These include cancer of the esophagus, larynx, stomach, colon and rectum.  Essentially, any part of the respiratory or gastro-intestinal tract that asbestos comes into contact with can be affected by an asbestos-related cancer.  Cancers of the gastrointestinal tract can result from swallowing airborne asbestos particles that pass through the nose and mouth.  Like lung cancer, any of these types of cancers can be asbestos-related regardless of whether a person is also diagnosed with asbestosis or asbestos-related pleural disease. The prognosis for people diagnosed with these cancers is often good, particularly if diagnosed in their early stages.

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