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Asbestos Related Diseases: Understanding the Risks and Impacts

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Last Updated on 30 April 2024

Asbestos, once hailed for its versatility, fire-resistant properties and durability, has left a devastating legacy on human health. From insulation in homes to brake linings in vehicles, asbestos found its way into various industries and homes unbeknownst to the health hazards it concealed. Subsequently, over the years, exposure to asbestos has been linked to a range of serious and often fatal diseases. Therefore, In this article, we delve into the various aspects of asbestos-related diseases, from their causes and symptoms to diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Introduction to Asbestos Related Diseases

Asbestos-related diseases refer to a group of illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos fibres.  Specifically, these diseases can affect the lungs, respiratory system, and other organs, often manifesting years or even decades after exposure.

History of Asbestos Use

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of microscopic fibres.  The history of asbestos use dates back centuries, due to its heat resistance and insulating properties.  Because of these favourable properties, asbestos witnessed widespread utilisation, from the late industrial revolution to the present day.

Its fireproof nature made it an ideal choice for construction materials and manufacturing components, until its harmful effects were recognised. It is only since the early 1900’s that the consequences of this unchecked usage started surfacing in the form of debilitating diseases.

Types of Asbestos

There are several types of asbestos minerals, each with its own unique properties. Specifically, these include:-


Chrysotile, also known as white asbestos, is the most commonly used type of asbestos. It is flexible and heat-resistant, making it suitable for a wide range of applications.


Amosite, or brown asbestos, is known for its strong and durable fibres. It was commonly used in insulation and cement products.


Crocidolite, or blue asbestos, has thin and brittle fibres. It was often used in insulation materials and pipe insulation.


Tremolite asbestos is a fibrous mineral that can be found in various rock formations. It is less commonly used compared to other types of asbestos.


Anthophyllite asbestos is a rare form of asbestos that is typically found alongside other minerals. It was used in limited industrial applications.

Common Asbestos-Related Diseases

Exposure to asbestos can lead to several serious health conditions. For instance, these include:-

Pleural Disorders

Pleural disorders, including asbestosis, pleural plaques and pleural effusion, are among the most common afflictions caused by asbestos exposure.


Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease characterised by scarring of the lung tissue.  Consequently, It can lead to breathing difficulties and respiratory complications.

Pleural Effusion

Pleural effusion is the accumulation of fluid in the pleural space.  As a result, this often causes chest pain and breathing difficulties.

Peritoneal Disorders

Asbestos exposure can also affect the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal cavity, leading to conditions such as peritoneal mesothelioma.  This aggressive form of cancer originates from asbestos fibres lodged in the abdominal lining, causing tumors to develop.

Pericardial Disorders

In rare instances, asbestos fibres may reach the pericardium, the membrane surrounding the heart, triggering inflammation and scarring. Pericardial mesothelioma, though rare, poses significant risks to heart function and overall health.


Mesothelioma, a malignant tumor affecting the mesothelial tissue lining the lungs, abdomen, or heart, is the most notorious among asbestos related diseases. Its latency period of several decades often results in late-stage diagnosis and limited treatment options. Undoubtedly, It is primarily caused by asbestos exposure.

Lung Cancer

Asbestos exposure significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer, particularly among smokers.

Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques are areas of thickened tissue that develop on the lining of the lungs or diaphragm. While usually benign, they indicate asbestos exposure.

Causes of Asbestos Related Diseases & Risk Factors

The primary cause of asbestos-related diseases is inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibres. Consequently, these fibres can become lodged in the lungs or other tissues, causing inflammation, scarring, and genetic damage over time.

Occupational Exposure

Workers in industries such as mining, construction and shipbuilding were often at higher risk of asbestos exposure due to their direct contact with asbestos-containing materials. Furthermore, poor ventilation and inadequate protective gear exacerbated the risk.

Environmental Exposure

Communities residing near asbestos mines or manufacturing plants face environmental exposure to airborne asbestos fibres, increasing the incidence of asbestos related disease among residents.

Secondary Exposure

Individuals indirectly exposed to asbestos through contact with contaminated clothing or proximity to asbestos-related work environments are susceptible to developing an asbestos disease.

Genetic Predisposition

Recent studies suggest a genetic predisposition to asbestos related diseases, indicating that certain genetic variations may influence an individual’s susceptibility to asbestos-induced health conditions.

Symptoms and Signs Of Asbestos Disease

The symptoms of an asbestos-related disease can vary depending on the type and severity.  In addition, they may not appear until decades after exposure. However, some common signs include shortness of breath, a persistent cough, chest pain, fatigue, abdominal swelling and unexplained weight loss.


asbestos diseases chest pain


Diagnosis and Testing

Diagnosing an asbestos-related disease often involves a combination of medical history review, physical examination, imaging and pulmonary function tests (such as X-rays and CT scans), and biopsy in order to assess their extent.

Treatment Options For Asbestos Disease

Treatment for asbestos-related diseases depends on the type and stage of the condition.  For example, some options may include:-


Surgical procedures may be performed to remove tumors, reduce symptoms, or improve quality of life.


Chemotherapy drugs are used to kill cancer cells and slow the progression of the disease.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy may be used to shrink tumors and alleviate symptoms in certain cases.

Emerging Therapies

Advancements in medical research have led to the development of newer therapies, including immunotherapy and targeted drug treatments, offering promising avenues for combating asbestos related diseases.


chemotherapy infusion asbestos diseases


Prevention and Safety Measures

Preventing asbestos exposure is crucial for reducing the risk of becoming ill with an asbestos-related disease. Typically, this includes the following:-

Occupational Safety

Employers are mandated to implement comprehensive safety protocols, including asbestos awareness training, proper ventilation systems and personal protective equipment for workers in high-risk industries.

Environmental Protection

Efforts to remediate asbestos-contaminated sites and promote environmental cleanup initiatives play a crucial role in reducing community exposure and preventing the proliferation of asbestos related diseases.

Legal Regulations

Enforcing regulations and guidelines for asbestos use, removal and disposal with the aim to mitigate the risks of asbestos exposure and protect public health.

Current Trends and Research On Asbestos Diseases

Ongoing research is focused on developing new treatments, improving early detection methods, and enhancing safety standards for asbestos handling and removal.

Impact Of Asbestos Disease on Health and Quality of Life

Asbestos diseases can have a profound impact on health, quality of life, and lifespan, affecting not only patients but also their families and caregivers.

Compensation and Legal Rights

Victims of asbestos related diseases and their families may seek compensation for their illnes through legal avenues, holding accountable entities such as asbestos manufacturers, suppliers and employers responsible for asbestos exposure and ensuring financial support for medical expenses and loss of income.

Compensation may cover medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. Therefore, It’s crucial to consult with experienced asbestos litigation lawyers to explore legal remedies.

Statutes of Limitations

Understanding the statutes of limitations governing asbestos-related legal claims is essential for pursuing legal recourse within the specified timeframe and securing rightful compensation.

Support and Resources for Patients and Families

Support Groups

Support groups provide invaluable emotional support, resources, and practical guidance to individuals and families affected by asbestos diseases, fostering a sense of community and empowerment.  In particular, Mesothelioma UK are a great place to start with their resources.

Patient Advocacy Organisations

Patient advocacy organisations advocate for the rights and well-being of asbestos disease patients, offering educational materials, advocacy services, and access to clinical trials and treatment options.

Myths and misconceptions surrounding asbestos & asbestos-related disease

1. Myth: Asbestos is not harmful if it’s intact

  • Fact: While undisturbed asbestos poses less risk, it can still release harmful fibres into the air over time. Asbestos-containing materials can become friable (easily crumbled) with age, incidental damage or through renovation, leading to fibre release and potential exposure.

2. Myth: Only people who worked directly with asbestos are at risk of asbestos-related diseases

  • Fact: While occupational exposure is a significant risk factor, asbestos fibres can also affect individuals through secondary exposure. For instance, family members of asbestos workers can inhale fibres carried home on clothing, leading to health risks.

3. Myth: Asbestos-related diseases only affect older individuals

  • Fact: While it often takes decades for an asbestos-related disease to manifest, exposure at any age can lead to health complications later in life. Moreover, there have been cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses in younger individuals due to environmental or secondary exposure.

4. Myth: Asbestos has been completely banned worldwide

  • Fact: While many countries have banned or heavily regulated the use of asbestos, it is still legal in many regions. Additionally, asbestos-containing materials may still be present in older buildings and infrastructure, posing a risk during renovation or demolition if not handled properly.

5. Myth: Asbestos exposure always results in immediate symptoms

  • Fact: Asbestos-related diseases often have a long latency period, meaning symptoms may not appear for 10 to 50 years after exposure. As a result, this delayed onset can make it challenging to trace health issues back to asbestos exposure, leading to underreporting and underdiagnosis.

6. Myth: Only inhalation of asbestos fibres poses a risk

  • Fact: While inhalation is the primary route of exposure, ingestion of asbestos fibres can also occur, particularly if asbestos-contaminated dust settles on food or surfaces. As a result, this underscores the importance of proper hygiene and safety measures in asbestos-exposed environments.

7. Myth: Asbestos exposure only affects the lungs

  • Fact: While asbestos is well-known for its association with lung diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, it can also affect other organs. For example, asbestos exposure has been linked to cancers of the larynx, ovaries, and other organs, as well as non-cancerous conditions like pleural plaques.

Conclusion – Asbestos Diseases

In summary, asbestos-related diseases pose serious health risks and continue to affect individuals worldwide. In addition, they pose a multifaceted challenge, necessitating concerted efforts from regulatory bodies, industries, healthcare professionals, and affected individuals to mitigate risks, enhance awareness, and provide support.

Therefore, by understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options and preventive measures associated with asbestos exposure, we can collectively strive towards a future free from the scourge of asbestos related disease.

FAQs On Asbestos-Related Diseases

Is asbestos exposure still a concern today in modern workplaces?

Yes, while the use of asbestos has significantly declined in modern construction and manufacturing, asbestos exposure remains a significant concern, particularly in older buildings and industrial settings where asbestos-containing materials may still be present. Additionally, improper handling or renovation of older buildings constructed with asbestos-containing materials can lead to exposure.  Asbestos was used in the UK up to the year 2000.

Can asbestos-related diseases be cured?

While there is no cure for asbestos-related diseases, various treatment options can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

How long does it take for an asbestos-related disease to develop?

Asbestos-related diseases typically have a long latency period, with symptoms often appearing 10-50 years after initial exposure.  Subsequently, this prolonged latency period means that symptoms may not manifest until decades after exposure, often making diagnosis difficult.

What are the early signs of asbestos related diseases?

Early signs of an asbestos related disease may include persistent coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. However, these symptoms can be nonspecific and may resemble other respiratory conditions, making early detection challenging.

What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to asbestos?

If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos, it is essential to seek medical advice and inform your healthcare provider about your potential exposure history.

Is there a cure for mesothelioma?

Currently, there is no cure for mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. However, treatment options such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and emerging therapies like immunotherapy and targeted drug treatments can help manage symptoms, prolong survival, and improve quality of life.

Are there any natural remedies for managing asbestos related symptoms?

While there are no natural remedies that can cure an asbestos related disease, adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking, can help support overall health and potentially alleviate some symptoms. However, it’s essential to consult with healthcare professionals for appropriate medical management.

Need professional advice?

We hope you found our article on asbestos-related diseases both useful and informative. If you need any help or advice at all then we’ll be very happy to assist you.  Give us a call and our experts will give you some advice and guidance on whatever if is you’re concerned about.

Please contact us on 0800 141 2676, email us at info@rbasbestos.co.uk or fill in the form below.

Our professional surveyors conduct inspections and surveys every day across the UK on all types of properties, both residential and commercial, for private home owners and commercial property Managers and owners.  So when it comes to managing ACMs in your property, you’re in very safe hands with RB!!

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