Asbestosis is a serious, chronic, non-cancerous respiratory disease.
Inhaled asbestos fibers aggravate lung tissues, which causes them to
scar. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry
crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. In its advanced stages,
the disease may cause cardiac failure.
There is no effective
treatment for asbestosis; the disease is usually disabling or fatal.
The risk of asbestosis is minimal for those who do not work with
asbestos; the disease is rarely caused by neighborhood or family
exposure. Those who renovate or demolish buildings that contain
asbestos may be at significant risk, depending on the nature of the
exposure and precautions taken.
Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos
exposure. The incidence of lung cancer in people who are directly
involved in the mining, milling, manufacturing and use of asbestos
and its products is much higher than in the general population. The
most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in
breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent
chest pains, hoarseness, and anemia.
People who have been exposed to asbestos and are also exposed to
some other carcinogen -- such as cigarette smoke -- have a
significantly greater risk of developing lung cancer than people who
have only been exposed to asbestos. One study found that asbestos
workers who smoke are about 90 times more likely to develop lung
cancer than people who neither smoke nor have been exposed to
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer which most often occurs in the
thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and (rarely)
heart. About 200 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States.
Virtually all cases of mesothelioma are linked with asbestos
exposure. Approximately 2 percent of all miners and textile workers
who work with asbestos, and 10 percent of all workers who were
involved in the manufacture of asbestos-containing gas masks,
People who work in asbestos mines, asbestos mills and factories,
and shipyards that use asbestos, as well as people who manufacture
and install asbestos insulation, have an increased risk of
mesothelioma. So do people who live with asbestos workers, near
asbestos mining areas, near asbestos product factories or near
shipyards where use of asbestos has produced large quantities of
airborne asbestos fibers.
The younger people are when they inhale asbestos, the more likely
they are to develop mesothelioma. This is why enormous efforts are
being made to prevent school children from being exposed.
Evidence suggests that cancers in the esophagus, larynx, oral
cavity, stomach, colon and kidney may be caused by ingesting
asbestos. For more information on asbestos-related cancers, contact
your local chapter of the American Cancer Society.