Asbestos mainly affects the lungs and the membrane that surrounds the lungs. Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers may result in scar-like tissue in the lungs and in the pleural membrane (lining) that surrounds the lung.
Persons with significant exposure to asbestos are at risk for developing various types of pleural (lining of the lungs) abnormalities. Changes in the lining of the lungs (pleura) such as thickening, plaques, calcification, and fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion) may be early signs of asbestos exposure.
Effects on breathing from pleural diseases alone are not usually serious, but higher exposure can lead to a thickening of the pleural membrane that may restrict breathing.
Asbestosis is a serious, progressive, long-term disease of the lungs. Asbestosis is not a cancer. Inhaling asbestos fibers that irritate and inflame lung tissues, causing the lung tissues to scar, causes asbestosis.
The scarring makes it hard to breathe and difficult for oxygen and carbon dioxide pass through the lungs.
Asbestosis generally progresses slowly. The latency period for the onset of asbestosis is typically 10-20 years after the initial exposure. The disease can vary from asymptomatic (no symptoms) to disabling and potentially fatal Signs and Symptoms of asbestosis can include:
Shortness of breath is the primary symptom
A persistent and productive cough (a cough that expels mucus)
Loss of appetite
A dry, crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling.
Asbestosis is a serious disease and can eventually lead to disability and in some cases, death. There is no cure for asbestosis and the health effects from asbestos exposure may continue to progress even after exposure is stopped. Furthermore, while the workers who are exposed to asbestos are at the greatest risk, there is also a risk for family members.
Asbestos fibers can attach to the clothing of the worker and then be brought home. Family members who wash the clothes of those exposed to asbestos are also at risk.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization, and the EPA have determined that asbestos is a human carcinogen. In short, it is well known that breathing asbestos can increase the risk of cancer in people. There are various types of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos with the two most common being lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the thin lining surrounding the lung (pleural membrane) or abdominal cavity (the peritoneum). Cancer from asbestos does not develop immediately, but shows up after a number of years. Studies of workers also suggest that breathing asbestos can increase chances of getting cancer in other parts of the body (stomach, intestines, esophagus, pancreas, and kidneys). Early identification and treatment of any cancer can increase an individual's quality of life and survival.
Cigarette smoke and asbestos together significantly increase your chances of getting lung cancer. Therefore, if you have been exposed to asbestos you should stop smoking. This may be the most important action that you can take to improve your health and decrease your risk of cancer.
Lung cancer is a malignant tumor that invades and obstructs the lung's air passages. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are cough, wheezing, unexplained weight loss, coughing up blood, and labored breathing.
Other symptoms of lung cancer include shortness of breath, persistent chest pain, hoarseness, and anemia. People who develop these symptoms do not necessarily have lung cancer, but they should consult a physician for advice.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer which may affect the lining of the lings (pleura) or the abdominal contents (peritoneum). Most mesotheliomas are caused by exposure to asbestos. As a matter of fact, In the United States, there is no other known proven cause of mesothelioma other than asbestos. Tumors of the mesothelium can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Since malignant mesothelioma is much more common than benign mesothelioma it is often simply called mesothelioma. Characteristics of a malignant tumor are that it has the ability to spread to other parts of the body, making it much more dangerous.
Approximately three-fourths of mesothelioma cases start in the chest cavity and are known as pleural mesothelioma. Another 10% to 20% begin in the abdomen and are called peritoneal mesothelioma. Those starting in the cavity around the heart, or pericardial mesothelioma, are very rare. The covering layer of the testicles is actually an outpouching of peritoneum into the scrotum. Mesothelioma that affects this covering of the testicles is quite uncommon.
Mesothelioma is still fairly rare. There are about 2,000 to 3,000 new cases per year in the United States. Most of the people who are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma are over fifty years old and is seen more often with people in their seventies, since they were exposed to asbestos in the 1940s-50s or earlier. Those who were exposed to asbestos in the 1960s-70s may be diagnosed in years to come. The disease attacks men 3 to 5 times more than women. Men are more likely then women to get this disease because men held more construction positions than women in past decades (before the women's rights movement had taken place).
Mesothelioma is also more common to Caucasians than in African Americans. Even though this disease is rare it is very serious. By the time it is diagnosed it is often in its advanced stages, making the outlook not as good as it is for other cancers that are found earlier. The average survival time is about 1 to 2 years after being diagnosed. Of course, survival rates are increasing due to advances in medical technology and new treatments that are being developed for mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma has been diagnosed in asbestos workers, family members, and residents who live close to asbestos mines.