Asbestos Diseases
Understanding diseases related to
Asbestos exposure …

Asbestos Related Diseases

Asbestos latency period

Asbestos disease in Australia may not peak until sometime in the next decade. The average latency period, which refers to the period between first exposure to asbestos and development of disease, in the case of mesothelioma, is about 35 years. Asbestos related disease rarely develops earlier than 10 years after first exposure. Asbestos exposure may also increase the risk of developing lung cancer and cancer of the upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts in smokers.

There are many asbestos related conditions that one can develop following exposure to asbestos fibres/dust. Some conditions can develop following relatively brief exposure, and other conditions can occur following moderate to high fibre/dust exposure. Importantly, not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos fibres/dust will develop an asbestos related disease.

If you have been exposed to, or think you may have been exposed to asbestos dust tell your medical practitioner. This is important, particularly if you have a shortness of breath or a sudden onset of shortness of breath, a persistent cough, ache or swelling in the chest, stomach or groin that cannot be explained by everyday ailments.

Failure to mention your history of asbestos dust/fibre exposure may mean the possibility of you having contracted an asbestos related disease is overlooked.

VIDEO – Professor Bruce Robinson AM – A Simple Explanation

Asbestos Disease is Not Infectious

The Lungs

The lungs are the main organs of the respiratory system, the body’s system for breathing. The respiratory system also includes the nose, mouth, trachea (windpipe) and airways to each of the lungs. There are the large airways to the lungs, called the bronchi, and the small airways to the lungs, called the bronchioles.

When you inhale (breath in) air goes into the nose or mouth, down the trachea and into the bronchi and bronchioles. Tiny air sacks at the end of the bronchioles, called alveoli, pass oxygen into the blood and collect carbon dioxide, the waste gas. The carbon dioxide is released from the body and into the atmosphere when you exhale (breath out).

The lungs are like 2 large sponges which rest on the diaphragm – a wide, thin muscle which assists with breathing.

The pleura is a thin sheet of tissue which covers the lung. The inner layer of the pleura (called the visceral layer) is attached to the lungs and the outer layer (called the parietal layer) lines the chest wall and the diaphragm. The pleura is surprisingly tough and also well supplied by nerve fibres. There is normally a small amount of fluid between the 2 layers which facilitates the expansion of the lung and allows the lungs to move smoothly against the chest wall as the chest expands when you breathe.

The following is an overview of asbestos diseases, however anyone with an asbestos related disease should seek the advice of medical practitioners and be guided by them as to the appropriate investigation and treatment. The information that follows is not meant as a substitute for information from medical practitioners but merely as a guide to the understanding of various asbestos related diseases.

Types of Asbestos Disease

  • Pleural plaques (with or without chest pain)
  • Pleural effusion
  • Asbestos-related pleural disease
  • Pleural thickening
  • Rounded or folded atelectasis
  • Asbestosis
  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung Cancer
  • Other cancers such as kidney, laryngeal and oesphogeal cancer

Asbestos on the Lung?

It is important to be given a definitive diagnosis. Many people are either told, or believe they have a diagnosis or a condition called ‘asbestos on the lung‘ – the problem is there is no actual disease called ‘asbestos on the lung‘!

‘Asbestos on the lung‘ appears to be a very loose term either used by a doctor, or mistakenly fixated on by a patient, to describe anything from almost inconsequential slight scaring of either the lungs or the lining that surrounds the lungs, to the other extreme, describing the terminal cancer, malignant
mesothelioma. It really is important to get a definitive diagnosis, and be told exactly which asbestos related disease you do have. Being told you have ‘asbestos on the lung‘ could mean very little, or it could mean heaps!

Who Will Give a Diagnosis?

As mentioned above it is important to get actual diagnosis, often this is harder than it may seem, due to many factors. People often put getting an actual diagnosis in the too hard basket, as I always said to people, “It doesn’t matter what you have, you need to get an actual diagnosis! After all how can you be treated if you don’t have a diagnosis? Do not at any stage accept it is too hard to be diagnosed – push the issue until you receive a conclusive diagnosis. Only then can you move forward, and commence the next stage of your journey – whatever that may entail.

If you have a switched on doctor (GP) who is conversant with asbestos related diseases you may be in luck. If not, just getting diagnosed could be quite arduous. it is important to have a clear pathway set up by your GP leading to a diagnosis. Normally it will involve having scans and being referred initially to
either a respiratory, thoracic or gastroenterologist (abdomen) specialist – depending on your symptoms. Where possible, if asbestos is suspected of being involved, a specialist conversant with workplace dust diseases should be sought.

REMEMBER: When consulting your doctor, it is important to mention your history of asbestos exposure, otherwise the possibility of an asbestos related disease existing may be overlooked. If you are suspected of having a form of malignant mesothelioma asbestos cancer you will find comprehensive information in the dedicated Mesothelioma section.

Contact ADSS

The Society can be contacted regarding any concerns about asbestos exposure. All asbestos exposure should be registered and this can be done by calling the Society on 1800 776 412.