Healthy Living

A Brief Look at Asbestos Related Diseases

Exposure to asbestos has a well-documented correlation to over a dozen diseases. The diseases related to asbestos exposure range from benign pleural plaques to the malignant, and highly aggressive, mesothelioma.  The major contributing factor to all of these diseases is the extent of exposure that a person has had with asbestos. Before the health concerns were understood, asbestos was widely used in ship construction, residential and commercial construction, and the automotive industries. Exposure to asbestos does not guarantee that a person will develop any of the associated medical conditions, but it does add an increase in the risk-factor of a person developing an exposure-related illness. The exposure factor that is most common is that the light fibrous asbestos material is inhaled into the lungs, where it can even diffuse to the bloodstream.

To look at asbestos related diseases in a little more depth, we’ve teamed up with the experts over at


Mesothelioma is the cancer that is most recognized as a result of exposure to asbestos, as almost all cases of mesothelioma are the result of asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the protective lining around the lungs, heart, testicles, or stomach. Regardless of specific diagnosis, most patients that suffer from mesothelioma will exhibit abdominal or chest pain and shortness of breath. From the time of diagnosis, the average prognosis for mesothelioma patients is less than one year.

Lung Cancer

Although asbestos is not a major cause of lung cancer, exposure to asbestos still leads to the lung cancer that claims approximately 3200 Americans a year. Exposure to large amounts of asbestos over an extended period may lead to lung cancer, and smokers exposed to asbestos are especially at elevated risk of developing lung cancer.

Ovarian Cancer

In 2009, the link between asbestos exposure and ovarian cancer was confirmed. The ovaries of women that have been exposed to asbestos have been found to often contain asbestos fibers. The fibers can make their way to the ovaries through the lymphatic system, bloodstream, or even through the reproductive tract.


Asbestosis is technically benign in that it does not produce malignant tumors, but it is still a potentially deadly disease. The fibers of asbestos that have been inhaled into the lungs cause the formation of severe scarring and sever inflammation of the tissues of the lung. When the lungs can’t function properly, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest are felt.

Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques are calcified buildups on the pleura around the lungs, and are a common condition for those who have been exposed to asbestos. Buildups that become extremely thick may contribute to painful breathing, but the condition is not generally considered to be li-threatening.

Pleural Effusions

Pleural effusion is the name given to a buildup of fluid between the pleura (lining around the lungs). These buildups are common in late-stage mesothelioma, but may also develop independently. Over time, pleural effusions may cause severe pain and interfere with normal breathing function, but are not immediately life-threatening in themselves. Pleural effusions may also be accompanied with pleuritic: an inflammation of the pleura that causes a sharp pain in the chest or shoulder when breathing as the inflamed pleural layers rub against each other.