Asbestos disease is caused by breathing in very fine fibres. As asbestos fibres accumulate in the lungs, several types of disease may occur.
Asbestosis: - is a scarring of the lung tissue caused by breathing in asbestos fibre over a period of many years. This leads to a progressive loss of elasticity and lung function. It is a slowly developing disease with a latency period (time between exposure and onset of disease) of 15 to 20 years.
Mesothelioma: - is a cancer of the lining of the lungs (pleura) or more rarely of the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum). Mesothelioma has a long latency period, averaging between 35 to 40 years; however this may vary between 15 and 67 years. The disease is almost always associated with asbestos exposure.
Lung Cancer: - is a malignant tumour of the bronchi of the lungs. The tumour grows through the surrounding tissue, invading and often obstructing passages.
Individuals exposed to asbestos have an increased risk of developing lung cancer which is further increased by smoking. Again the disease has a long latency period of approximately 20 years.
Diffuse Pleural Thickening: - is a non-malignant disease in which the lining of the lungs (pleura) become scarred. Pleural plaques do not normally cause impairment of lung function or associated disability.
The risk of developing an asbestos disease is related to the type of asbestos, and, the duration and level of exposure. Mesothelioma is more likely to be associated with crocidolite and amosite than with chrysotile.
Further information can be found in Health and Safety Executive Guidance MS13, Asbestos: Medical Guidance Note.
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