Asbestos is classified as a known human carcinogen. The property of durability—which made asbestos so desirable to manufacturers —is that which makes asbestos so hazardous. Asbestos fibres are microscopic (roughly .02 the diameter of a human hair) and easily inhaled. Once inhaled, the asbestos fibres cling to the respiratory system, including the lining of the lungs and inner cavity tissue. As asbestos fibres are typically quite rigid, they become lodged in the soft internal tissue of the respiratory system and are not easily expelled or broken down by the body.
There are three major lung conditions traced directly to asbestos exposure. These are lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Lung cancer risk, typically associated with tobacco use, is known to be exacerbated by exposure to asbestos. Symptoms include coughing, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer of the lung and inner body’s cavity lining—a thin membrane known as the mesothelium. Mesothelioma is typically recognised as the most clearly attributable disease resulting from asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma originates in three locations. Pleural mesothelioma forms in the lining of the lungs and is the most common form of the disease. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma are less common and form in the lining of the abdominal cavity and lining of the heart, respectively. Although the prognosis for this disease is poor, treatment options are available.
Asbestosis is a degenerative and progressive non-malignant, long-term, respiratory condition. Asbestosis results from the formation of scar tissue plaques on the visceral surface of the pleura. Asbestosis can represent a precursor to the onset of mesothelioma.