What are some of the diseases or disorders related to asbestos exposure?

Asbestos is fibrous material used widely for insulation and fireproofing. It is dangerous when the fibers are inhaled and become lodged in the lungs, causing inflammation and scarring. This scar tissue reduces the amount of oxygen that can be taken in by the body.

Enough scarring and inflammation can affect breathing and can lead to shortness of breath and frequent lung infections and heart or respiratory failure. There is no effective treatment. The condition in which asbestos causes scar tissue to build up in the lungs is called asbestosis.

Whether someone will develop asbestosis depends on such factors as the intensity and duration of exposure and the person's age when exposed. Asbestosis slowly progresses and will show no symptoms for 10 to 30 years after the initial exposure. However, there is no known "safe" level of exposure.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 1,493 people died from asbestosis in 2000, compared with 77 in 1968 (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC, July 23, 2004; http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/wk/mm5328.pdf).

Persons occupationally exposed to asbestos have developed several types of life-threatening diseases. There are four main diseases related to asbestos exposure. They are:

  • Pleural mesothelioma;
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma;
  • Asbestosis; and
  • Lung cancer.

None of these diseases can actually be cured; however, with various treatments, the patient’s life can be extended.