Asbestos Related Diseases

Asbestos can cause a variety of different diseases, most of them related to the respiratory system. The danger of asbestos comes from its ability to easily break down into a fine dust comprised of long, thin fibers. People can inhale or ingest these fibers, and begin to experience adverse health effects. The fibers will often embed themselves in a person’s lungs or other organs, and the person’s body will be unable to expel them. Once the fibers have lodged themselves in the body, the person is at risk for asbestosis, cancer, and other pleural diseases.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis results from the inhalation of the fibers into the lungs. This allows the fibers to penetrate either the lung tissue itself or the pleura, a layer of protective tissue surrounding the lungs. Once this happens, the fibers will begin to irritate and inflame the tissue, leading to symptoms like shortness of breath, persistent cough, chest pain, and weight loss. While doctors cannot currently cure asbestosis, they have treatments available to alleviate the symptoms such as inhalers, and in some cases even surgical treatment. In addition to the health issues the fibers can cause by themselves, they can also lead to scars developing on the lung and pleural tissue, which can lead to cancer in some cases.

Cancer

Asbestos exposure can cause a variety of cancers, but the two most common are lung cancer and mesothelioma. Both of these cancers come in a variety of types, and thousands of people are diagnosed with these asbestos-related cancers each year.

Lung cancer involves the development of tumors on the tissue of the lung. These tumors often grow near the person’s airways, and eventually begin to restrict flow through the airways, leading to a variety of respiratory symptoms. Doctors classify lung cancer into two varieties, small cell and non-small cell, based on the microscopic appearance of the cells. Small cell lung cancer is much more aggressive than the non-small cell variety, and is almost completely limited to people with a history of smoking.

Mesothelioma is the growth of tumors on a person’s mesothelial tissue. This is a protective layer of tissue that lines many of a person’s internal organs. The most common type of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma. In this type, tumors appear on the pleural lining surrounding a person’s lungs, and it is commonly caused by a person’s inhaling asbestos fibers in the air. If a person swallows the fibers instead of inhaling them, they can develop peritoneal mesothelioma, where tumors develop in the lining of the abdomen. Alternatively, fibers can enter a person’s bloodstream, and then make their way to the lining of a person’s heart, causing pericardial mesothelioma.

Pleural Diseases

In addition to pleural mesothelioma, the pleural lining can also develop a variety of other problems related to asbestos including pleural plaques, pleural thickening, and pleural effusions. Pleural plaques are a hardening of the pleural lining in certain places, which restricts the motion of a person’s lungs making it more difficult to breathe. Pleural thickening is the swelling and hardening of the entire pleural layer. This can decrease lung function and lead to chest pain and shortness of breath. Finally, pleural effusion is an increase in fluid in the lungs. While some amount of fluid promotes the easy motion of the chest during breathing, too much can prevent the lungs from expanding, resulting, once again, in shortness of breath and possibly a persistent cough.

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