There are a number of different asbestos related diseases, some more serious than others. Those unfortunate enough to contract any asbestos related disease are likely to suffer from one of the following conditions:-

  • Mesothelioma

  • Asbestosis

  • Pleural thickening

  • Lung cancer

  • Pleural plaques

  • Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is a lung disease caused by inhaling or swallowing asbestos fibres which can later go on to cause a tumour in the lining around the lungs, the lining of the abdominal cavity and sometimes the lining around the heart. In the early stages of development it may cause only minor symptoms of shortness of breath and chest pain, however, as the condition develops it causes increasing symptoms.

It is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos fibres and just one tiny asbestos fibre can cause asbestos malignant mesothelioma.

The early signs of asbestos malignant mesothelioma can be similar to those caused by other lung conditions and so if you have been exposed to asbestos fibres and you are seeing a doctor about lung problems, you must inform them of your exposure to asbestos fibres so they can make a proper and early diagnosis of asbestos mesothelioma. If they are unaware of the asbestos exposure it may delay the diagnosis and access to treatment.

If you have an unexplained shortness of breath or chest pain and you have worked with asbestos but are not receiving medical attention, you should visit your GP and explain your concerns and seek a referral to a chest consultant.

The average time for asbestos mesothelioma to develop is around 40 years and it can take longer than that to develop.

Treatment of Malignant Mesothelioma

Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that malignant mesothelioma can be cured or reversed.

The most common treatment is chemotherapy which uses anti-cancer drugs, usually injected into the bloodstream to prevent the cancer cells from multiplying. Depending on the type of drugs used and the patient’s response, treatment times can range from weekly to every 2 or 3 weeks. This treatment tries to slow down the growth and spread of the tumour and in recent years a new drug called Alimta has been very effective in many cases in slowing down the growth of the tumour and extending survival times.

Sometimes radiotherapy treatment is also used to slow down the growth and spread of the tumour. This involves using high energy x-rays to shrink the tumour.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is often wrongly used as a term for any type of asbestos related disease but it is in fact one of five asbestos diseases which can be caused by exposure to asbestos fibres.

Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibres which cause scarring to the lungs which is known as fibrosis. This reduces the capacity of the lungs to function properly causing pain, worsening shortness of breath and a cough. The main symptom is shortness of breath.

Lung fibrosis can have other causes and so if you have been exposed to asbestos fibres and you are seeing a doctor about lung problems, you must inform them of your exposure to asbestos fibres so they can make a proper diagnosis of asbestosis. If they are unaware of the asbestos exposure they may diagnose 'fibrosis of unknown cause.'

If you have an unexplained shortness of breath and you worked with asbestos but are not receiving medical attention, you should visit your GP and explain your concerns and seek a referral to a chest consultant.

Asbestosis rarely develops within 20 years of exposure to asbestos fibres and usually develops over a longer period of time.

Unfortunately, asbestosis cannot be cured or reversed and if you are a smoker your risk of developing asbestos related lung cancer is greatly increased. Treatment for asbestosis is in the form of medication to treat the symptoms and in more severe cases oxygen therapy.

Pleural Thickening & Effusion

Asbestos related pleural thickening is lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibres which then find their way into the pleura (the two layered protective membrane surrounding the lung) causing thickening/hardening and scarring. This reduces the capacity of the lung(s) to function properly causing pain/tightening across the chest and shortness of breath.

Asbestos pleural thickening is proof of exposure to asbestos fibres and, whilst the condition itself can be disabling, it is also an indicator of the increased risk of suffering one of the other asbestos related diseases i.e. asbestos mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer and asbestosis.

Pleural thickening can have other causes and so if you have been exposed to asbestos fibres and you are seeing a doctor about lung problems, you must inform them of your exposure to asbestos fibres so they can make a proper diagnosis of asbestos related pleural thickening. If they are unaware of the asbestos exposure they may diagnose 'pleural thickening of unknown cause.'

Asbestos pleural thickening usually develops 20 years or more from exposure to asbestos fibres.

Asbestos pleural thickening is considered to be benign and so no treatment is usually offered. However, if there is also a pleural effusion (collection of fluid next to the lung), which sometimes accompanies pleural thickening, the fluid is drained away and antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication is prescribed.

Lung Cancer

Asbestos lung cancer is a lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibres which can later go on to cause a tumour in all parts of the lungs. Malignant mesothelioma is a form of lung cancer which is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos and which affects the lining around the lungs, the lining of the abdominal cavity and sometimes the lining around the heart. Asbestos lung cancer affects other areas of the lungs. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and can cause all the common types of lung cancer.

Asbestos lung cancer can cause constant chest pain, shortness of breath a cough which will not go away and other symptoms.

The early signs of asbestos lung cancer are the same as those caused by other lung cancers and so if you have been exposed to asbestos fibres and you are seeing a doctor about lung problems, you must inform them of your exposure to asbestos fibres so they can make a proper and early diagnosis of asbestos lung cancer. If they are unaware of the asbestos exposure it may delay the diagnosis and access to treatment.

If you have an unexplained cough, shortness of breath or chest pain and you have worked with asbestos but are not receiving medical attention, you should visit your GP and explain your concerns and seek a referral to a chest consultant.

The time asbestos lung cancer can take to develop is variable but depending on the type of cancer could be around 3 to 10 years.

Smoking and exposure to asbestos fibres significantly increases the risk asbestos lung cancer.

It is generally no longer the case that a diagnosis of asbestos lung cancer can only be made in patients who have asbestosis.

The most common treatment is chemotherapy which uses anti-cancer drugs, usually injected into the bloodstream to prevent the cancer cells from multiplying. Depending on the type of drugs used and the patient’s response, treatment times can range from weekly to every 2 or 3 weeks. This treatment tries to slow down the growth and spread of the tumour and in recent years a new drug called Alimta has been very effective in many cases in slowing down the growth of the tumour and extending survival times.

Sometimes radiotherapy treatment is also used to slow down the growth and spread of the tumour. This involves using high energy x-rays to shrink the tumour.

Pleural Plaques

Asbestos related pleural plaque or plaques is a lung condition caused by inhaling asbestos fibres into the lungs causing localised areas of thickening usually to the outer layer of the lungs lining the chest cavity. They are the most common type of asbestos related injury. Usually they do not cause any symptoms although in unusually severe cases they can cause pain and shortness of breath.

Asbestos pleural plaques is proof of exposure to asbestos fibres and, whilst the condition itself is not disabling, it is an indicator of the increased risk of suffering one of the other asbestos related diseases i.e. asbestos mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer, asbestosis and asbestos pleural thickening.

Asbestos related pleural plaques usually develops 20 years or more from exposure to asbestos fibres.

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