Diseases Associated With Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos has been used since the 1800s in many forms of construction and many people face some level of exposure. Although asbestos is heavily regulated now, its frequent use in the past has put many people at risk of exposure. When asbestos is disturbed, microscopic silicate fibers, which can be easily inhaled, are released into the air. Our lungs are coated with a protective layer of mucus and are lined with cilia to help remove harmful particles. However, some small inhaled particles may not be easily cleared and become lodged deep within the lung. When asbestos fibers become trapped in the lower airways and aveoli, they cause immunological reactions, leading to inflammation and, over the long term, disease. Many diseases caused by asbestos exposure have very long latent periods and patients may not exhibit symptoms for up to 50 years.
The earliest disease following asbestos exposure is pleural effusion, which typically occurs after 10 years. Effusions may be accompanied by pain and breathlessness, but they often resolve within a few months. Unresolved effusions may lead to pleural thickening.
The most common effect of asbestos exposure is the development of pleural plaques. These plaques are formed by the thickening of the pleura, or the lining surrounding the lungs. Although pleural plaques seldom lead to complications, they are indicators of previous asbestos exposure. For this reason, patients with pleural plaques may be at risk of other asbestos-related diseases.
Prolonged exposure to inhaled asbestos can lead to a condition known as asbestosis. Asbestosis is a progressive buildup of fibrotic scar tissue in the lungs. This fibrosis reduces lung capacity and puts patients at risk of other complications such as heart failure.
One asbestos-related disease is mesothelioma, a cancer of the mesothelial cells that line body cavities. Approximately 75% of mesothelioma cases occur in the pleural mesothelium (lining of the lungs), but they can also arise in in the lining of other areas such as the abdomen (peritoneum), heart (pericardium) or, rarely, testes (tunica vaginalis).
In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can lead to all forms of lung cancer. The risk of asbestos-related lung cancer is much higher in smokers. Treatment options for lung cancer are available, but are most effective when the cancer is detected early.
If you think you may be suffering from an asbestos-related illness, contact us.
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