When a person breathes asbestos, fibers can become lodged in the lungs. Once there, they can cause scarring. Asbestos fibers can also cause mesothelioma and lung cancer. The knowledge that asbestos can cause these fatal diseases has been known since the 1920's.
The specific disease types associated with asbestos exposure include:
Mesothelioma (cancer of the mesothelium) is a disease in which cells of the mesothelium become abnormal and divide without control or order. They can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also metastasize (spread) from their original site to other parts of the body. Most cases of mesothelioma begin in the pleura or peritoneum.
Asbestos can scar the lung and the lining of the lung. This scarring is known as asbestosis or interstitial fibrosis. If enough scarring occurs, it can impair the elasticity of the lungs and hamper their ability to exchange gases. As a result, there is inadequate oxygen intake to the blood. This impairment leads to shortness of breath. Over time, the breathing capacity can diminish and in some cases, become fatal.
Asbestosis, like other asbestos diseases, is a disease of latency -- it takes 10 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos for a person to become sick.
There is no known cure for asbestosis.
Asbestos also causes lung cancer. A person who does not smoke can get lung cancer from being to exposed to asbestos. If you smoked in the past or are presently smoking, and have been diagnosed with lung cancer, asbestos may also be a cause of your cancer. For smokers, asbestos and tobacco act together, greatly increasing the risk of lung cancer. The combination of smoking and asbestos can increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
Lung cancer, depending on its severity and the medical history of the individual, may be treated.
For information on cancer treatment centers, click here.
Asbestos has also been associated with many other cancers, including cancers of the throat and stomach areas.