What is Asbestos Lung Disease?

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  • Written By: Dulce Corazon
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Asbestos lung disease is a condition which develops in either one or both lungs resulting from asbestos exposure. A naturally occurring compound, asbestos is often used in many building and automotive materials for insulation purposes. There are three lung diseases commonly caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. These are asbestosis, asbestos pleural disease and asbestos lung cancer.

Asbestosis is an asbestos lung disease characterized by scarring in the lungs. Asbestos fibers are usually fine and tiny, and they gain easy access inside the lungs when inhaled. Once inside the lungs, the body interprets the fibers as foreign materials and sends off inflammatory cells to the area to fight its presence. Inflammation then follows, which eventually leads to scarring of the lung tissues. Scarred portions of the lungs are usually not capable of gas exchange and proper functioning.

In asbestos pleural disease, asbestos fibers usually affect the pleura, or the membrane lining the lungs. The presence of asbestos fibers in the lining of the lungs may cause scar formation in the area. It may also lead to the accumulation of fluids, known as pleural effusion, in the pleural cavity. Some patients may not experience symptoms, while others may manifest with pain in the lungs and shortness of breath.


Malignant mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer usually develops when asbestos fibers also lodge in the membrane lining the lungs. The presence of asbestos fibers, however, result in the growth of a malignant tumor which can spread to other organs in the body. It is a debilitating disease often diagnosed late, as its symptoms often mimic other lung disorders. Symptoms include chest pain, weight loss, persistent cough and shortness of breath.

In 1970, mesothelioma was regulated in the Clean Air Act in the United States. Prior to this year, employees such as miners, aircraft mechanics and shipyard workers, didn't have safety measures in the workplace to protect them against asbestos inhalation. This places them at greater risk to develop asbestos lung disease. The onset of asbestos lung disease often appear between 20 to 40 years after exposure. Many employees suffering from mesothelioma have filed asbestos legal claims on their previous employers for exposing them to asbestos in the workplace.

Asbestos lung disease, such as mesothelioma, is often managed by a pulmonologist, a lung specialist, and an oncologist, a cancer specialist. Diagnosis is frequently done with the aid of chest X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest. A biopsy, which is a procedure involving removal of tissue samples in the body, is often done and sent to the laboratory for analysis to determine the definite cause of the disease process. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.


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