Asbestos Disease

Different Types of Asbestos Disease

1 / Pleural Plaque Disease

A fibrous scar often with calcium can form on the outer surface of the lung. It usually does not cause any symptoms, and is only noticed on x-rays, as the calcium in the plaques can be seen. It does not lead to any other disease, and it is mainly useful as an indicator of asbestos exposure. Lung Function Testing is usually normal. Very rarely it can be very extensive, encase the lung and restrict breathing.

2 / Asbestosis

If a large amount of asbestos fibres are inhaled, the substance of the lung can solidify, and restrict oxygen passage, leading to breathlessness. This can usually be seen on x-rays, or even better on CT scans, and leads to decline in Lung Function Testing, which measures lung volume, and the ability of oxygen to diffuse through the lungs to the bloodstream. Slow but steady deterioration in breathing ability is typical, and fatality is common after several years.

3 / Lung Cancer (Bronchogenic Carcinoma of the Lung)

Asbestos exposure greatly increases the risk of this serious Cancer that occurs deep inside the substance of the lung in those who smoke. Non-smokers exposed to asbestos are not considered to be at increased risk of this Cancer. Some reports suggest that up to 40 percent of smokers exposed to significant amounts of asbestos could develop this Cancer, as compared to the usual risk of smoking which is 10 percent. It is this group that much attention is focused, attempting to diagnose these cancers early, because early detection that can result in high cure rates with surgery. Any Unusual Chest Symptoms, such as persistent cough, chest infection, pain, breathlessness, coughing up blood, maybe a sign. Trials of attempting to detect these cancers early with low-dose CT scans, or breath testing are proceeding in various parts of the world. The state government of Victoria has so far declined to participate in these trials.


4 / Mesothelioma

This aggressive cancer grows on the outer lining of the lung, and can develop even with a seemingly trivial exposure to asbestos. Breathlessness, chest pain, and a collection of fluid between the lungs and the ribs (pleural effusion) are common. Life expectancy can vary and at this present time there is no cure. There is no accepted proven treatment, but some authorities feel surgery may improve life expectancy along with chemotherapy and radiation. A latency period of 20 or 30 years after exposure to asbestos is common prior to the development of this cancer.

5 / Mesothelioma of the Peritoneal

Occasionally mesothelioma is not in the chest, but occurs in the abdomen. About one out of ten mesothelioma is abdominal (or peritoneal).

The abdomen is lined with a similar type of tissue to the pleura, but is called peritoneum when it is inside the abdominal cavity. Peritoneal mesothelioma originates in the abdomen.

6 / Pericardial Mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma is an asbestos cancer, it affects the lining of the heart and it’s only known cause is asbestos exposure. While the precise route by which microscopic asbestos fibres reaches the pericardial lining is not known, doctors surmise that inhaled asbestos fibres are absorbed into the bloodstream and become entangled in the heart’s lining as the blood processes through the heart.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, the best advice that you can be offered is to stop smoking, and eat a healthy diet. There Is No Antidote.

Some authorities recommended a low-dose CT scan every one or two years in smokers exposed to asbestos in between the ages of 50 and 70. International trials are proceeding to see if this is worthwhile.

If you are concerned and wish to discuss this further, then consult your local doctor and maybe seek a referral to a doctor with a special interest in this area.

This information supplied by Dr Anthony Sasse, Specialist Respiratory Physician, Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia.

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