Tal Klatchko, D.O.

Pulmonary & Critical Care
Roper-St. Francis Hospital
Charleston, South Carolina

Asbestos linked lung diseases

Asbestos linked lung diseases are diseases that develop from exposure to asbestos fibers. Asbestos is a mineral that, at one time, was widely used in many industries.

Build up of Asbestos Fibers in your lungs can lead to:

  • Pleural plaque – A condition in which the tissue around the lungs and diaphragm thickens and hardens. This tissue is called the pleura. Pleural plaque usually causes no symptoms. Rarely, as the pleura thickens, it can trap and compress part of the lung. This may show up as a mass on an x-ray image.
  • Pleural effusion – A condition in which excess fluid builds up in the pleural space. The pleural space is the area between the lungs and the chest wall.
  • Asbestosis -A condition in which the lung tissue becomes scarred. Individuals who have asbestosis are at greater risk for lung cancer, especially if they smoke.
  • Lung cancer – A type of cancer forms in the lung tissue, usually in the cells lining the air passages.
  • Mesothelioma – Cancer of the pleura.

Asbestos also can cause cancer in the lining of the abdominal cavity. This lining is known as the peritoneum.


Individuals who worked around asbestos during that time are at risk for asbestos-related lung diseases. Individuals at highest risk for these diseases include:

  • Unprotected workers who made, installed, or removed products containing asbestos. Individuals who worked near those who did these jobs also are at risk.
  • Family members of workers who were exposed to asbestos. Family members may have breathed in asbestos fibers that workers brought home on their clothes, shoes, or bodies.
  • Individuals who lived in areas with large deposits of asbestos in the soil. However, this risk is limited to areas where the deposits were disturbed and asbestos fibers escaped into the air.

Asbestos fibers also can be released into the air when older buildings containing asbestos-made products are destroyed. Removing these products during building renovations also can release asbestos fibers into the air.


The Perspective for Individuals who have asbestos-related lung diseases can vary. Their outlook will depend on which disease they have and how much it has damaged their lungs.

No treatments can reverse the effects of asbestos on your lungs. However, treatments may help relieve symptoms, slow the progress of the disease, and prevent complications.

If you’ve been exposed to asbestos, let your doctor know. He or she can watch you for signs of asbestos-related problems and start treatment early, if needed. Early treatment may help prevent or delay complications.


Significant exposure to asbestos fibers causes asbestos-related lung diseases. “Significant” usually means you were exposed for at least several months to visible dust from the fibers.

Generally, asbestos-related lung diseases develop 10 to 40 or more years after a person has been exposed to asbestos.


Anyone employed for a prolonged period in mining, milling, making, or installing asbestos products before the late 1970s is at risk for asbestos-related lung diseases.

In general, the risk is greatest for Individuals who worked with asbestos and were exposed for at least several months to visible dust from asbestos fibers. The risk for asbestos-related lung diseases also depends on the asbestos you were exposed to, the length of time and frequency during that time you were in direct contact with Asbestos, the size, shape, and chemical makeup of the asbestos fibers and your individual risks, such as smoking or existing lung diseases.


The signs and symptoms of asbestos-related lung diseases vary. They depend on the disease and how much lung damage has occurred. Signs and symptoms may not appear for 10 to 40 or more years after exposure to asbestos.

If you have pleural plaque, you may not have any signs or symptoms. Pleural effusion may cause pain in the chest on one side. Both conditions often are found with a chest x ray. These conditions may occur earlier than other asbestos-related lung diseases.

Amongst others.


Your doctor will diagnose an asbestos-related lung disease based on your past exposure to asbestos, your symptoms, a physical exam, and the results from tests.

Your doctor may ask whether you have any symptoms, such as shortness of breath or cough. The symptoms of asbestos-related lung diseases vary, depending on the disease and how much lung damage has occurred.

Your doctor also may ask whether you smoke. Smoking, along with asbestos exposure, raises your risk for lung cancer.

Your doctor will want to know about your history of asbestos exposure. He or she may ask about your work history and your spouse’s or other family members’ work histories.


No treatments can reverse the effects of asbestos on your lungs. However, treatments may help relieve symptoms and prevent or delay complications. If you have lung cancer, treatments may help slow the progress of the disease.


You can prevent asbestos-related lung diseases by limiting your exposure to asbestos fibers. If your job requires you to work around asbestos, make sure to follow workplace rules for handling it. For example, make sure that air levels are measured and that you wear the proper respirator to avoid breathing in asbestos fibers.