Friable asbestos fibers have been linked to three serious health conditions: asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. All these illnesses are life-threatening and are most often developed by people who have frequently been exposed to high levels of asbestos over a long period of time.
1 – Asbestosis
Asbestosis is caused by breathing in asbestos fibers, which lodge in the lungs and leads to scarring. This scarring, or fibrosis, impairs the lungs’ ability to expand and contract, making breathing difficult. Those with asbestosis may suffer from shortness of breath and rales, a crackling noise in the lungs that can be detected during a physical examination.
People with the most serious cases of asbestosis experience a cough, chest pain, blue-colored skin and distorted fingers and fingernails, also known as finger clubbing.
The condition can take years to develop, and many symptoms may remain static. The condition is chronic, however, and there is no cure. Those with asbestosis may be unable to work and be forced to live with a compromised quality of life.
Asbestosis is a chronic condition, and while victims are impaired by the condition, many live for years. In more severe cases, life expectancy is shortened.
2 – Lung Cancer
Lung cancer has a variety of causes, and asbestos exposure is one of them. The long-term exposure to high levels of asbestos can cause the condition on its own, and other factors, such as tobacco use and the age of the victim at exposure, also contribute to the risk. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, notes that 20 or 30 years may elapse between asbestos exposure and the development of lung cancer, lulling many victims into a false sense of security. Also, OSHA notes that studies have indicated workers who were exposed to asbestos for 1-12 months have a significant risk of developing lung cancer years later.
Lung cancer is difficult to diagnosis in the early stages, so the disease is often advanced when it is first detected. Symptoms of lung cancer include shortness of breath, chest pain, continuing cough, fever and unexplained weight loss. These symptoms are not limited to lung cancer, however, so regular checkups, especially for those who have experienced serious asbestos exposure, are necessary.
Lung cancer is often fatal, but survival rates have been increasing in recent years. Still, the average five-year survival rate for non-small-cell lung cancer is approximately 18 percent, while the five-year survival rate for small-cell lung cancer is only about 6 percent.
3 – Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a rare, deadly cancer that is directly tied to asbestos. Workers who were exposed to high levels of asbestos and their families, who were often exposed to the disease by the fibers the workers carried home on their clothing, can develop this disease.
This cancer affects the tissue layer that surrounds many internal organs, including the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), and attacks the heart (pericardial mesothelioma).
Affects the lungs.
Affects the abdomen.
Affects the heart.
The life expectancy for mesothelioma is approximately 12-21 months, depending on the type and the stage of the disease. Early diagnosis and treatment have enabled some patients to live five years or longer. At this point, there is no cure for mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is the rarest and most deadly disease associated with asbestos exposure, and, like some lung cancers, may be tied to the negligence of businesses and corporations. When fighting these conditions, people need both legal and medical experts on their side.