What is Asbestosis?

Asbestosis and cancer are both diseases caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestosis is a type of pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs) in the lungs and respiratory tract. The most common cause of asbestosis is asbestos exposure. 

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral commonly used in certain building products until the 1980s. Exposure to asbestos can occur in various settings, such as work, schools, or home. Products that contain the toxin typically consist of insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, or textiles.

Coming into contact with asbestos, loose fibers can enter the lungs through the nose or the stomach through the mouth. After prolonged exposure, asbestos fibers can build up and cause irritation within the small air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli. Over a period of 10 to 40 years, the irritation can eventually create scar tissue. 

While asbestosis is not cancerous, the terminal disease can cause significant side effects. Scarring along the lungs stiffens the tissue and reduces the function of the alveoli, making it difficult to breathe. Other symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, clubbing of fingertips, consistently dry cough, crackling sound upon inhale, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Over time, the irreversible scarring of the lung tissue causes increasing respiratory fatigue.

Asbestosis and Cancer

Asbestos-related cancer like mesothelioma occurs due to DNA damage. Since asbestosis is only limited to scar tissue within the lungs, the formation of tumors and the spread of unrestricted cellular growth is not possible.

Some evidence suggests an asbestosis diagnosis can actually increase the risk of developing lung cancer. People who have a history of smoking are at an even higher risk of developing lung cancer after an asbestosis diagnosis.

Patients diagnosed with asbestosis likely came into contact with asbestos fibers and risk the chance of developing mesothelioma, too. People at risk of either asbestosis or cancer likely worked in high-risk industries prior to federal asbestos regulations in the 1980s.

Occupational asbestos exposure causes multiple diseases and malignancies, including pleural plaques, pleural effusion, stomach cancer, COPD, ovarian cancer, and colon cancer. Those at the highest risk of developing an asbestos-related complication like asbestosis or cancer likely worked in one of these industries or occupations:

  • Asbestos mining and milling, and manufacturing
  • Army
  • Aviation and auto mechanics
  • Boiler operators
  • Construction
  • Electricians
  • Insulation
  • Longshore and harbor workers
  • Maritime
  • Navy
  • Railroad
  • Refinery plants
  • Shipyard

While there is no cure for asbestosis, treatment can relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Early detection can improve an asbestosis prognosis.

Getting Help Following a Diagnosis

Following an asbestosis diagnosis, a patient will likely start treatment immediately. While there is no cure for asbestosis, treatment options help manage the disease and control its symptoms. Asbestosis patients may receive oxygen therapy or an inhaler to help with chest congestions, tightness, or wheezing. 

In rare cases, a patient may undergo a lung transplant or other surgery to remove the affected tissue. Most doctors encourage asbestosis patients to follow a pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) treatment program. The program consists of a team of specialists that determine a treatment program best suited for each pateints. A PR plan can help improve lung function, minimie symptoms, and make breathing easier through breathing exercises and techniques, nutrition, and physical movements.

Asbestosis and cancer caused by exposure to asbestos are serious and chronic conditions. Many victims were exposed to asbestos unknowingly while working in industries that mass produced products containing the toxin.

Patients with an asbestos-related disease may be eligible for financial assistance through personal injury claims. Immediate family members can also file a wrongful death claim on behalf of a loved one who passed away from an asbestos-related disease.