The Deadly Consequences of Asbestos Exposure

The link between asbestos exposure and disease has long been scientifically proven.

But while many of us know that inhaling asbestos fibers can be dangerous to our health, what we often don’t know is just how far-reaching the impact of asbestos can be. The material, it turns out, can cause a variety of diseases, some of them catastrophic. This includes mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the protective lining covering many of the body’s organs.

While mesothelioma lawyers have won many sizable verdicts and settlements for victims of asbestos exposure, not all of their work has been on behalf of mesothelioma victims. Other types of cancer as well as severe, potentially deadly non-cancerous conditions have been triggered by inhaling asbestos, and those victims have needed assistance and financial compensation.

Here is a look at various—and all too common — asbestos-related diseases:

• Mesothelioma. Almost always the result of asbestos exposure, mesothelioma can take decades to develop, but once detected, the disease carries a poor prognosis. Indeed, most patients succumb to mesothelioma within a year of diagnosis. And unlike mesothelioma lawyers, who have seen success in the courtroom, mesothelioma researchers still struggle to understand—and fight—the deadly disease. There is currently no known cure, and even the most sophisticated treatments typically add just months to a mesothelioma patient’s life.

• Lung cancer. While other factors, such as smoking, can also trigger lung cancer, asbestos exposure is a primary cause of the deadly disease. Epidemiological studies of asbestos worker deaths have shown a particularly high lung cancer rate—higher than that seen in populations not exposed to asbestos. While the British government reports that there is one asbestos-related lung cancer death for every mesothelioma death, many experts say there are far more cases of lung cancer due to asbestos exposure. Smoking, when combined with asbestos exposure, can put an individual at even greater risk of contracting lung cancer.

• Other cancers. Evidence has shown that asbestos can trigger cancer of the larynx as well, and it can even cause cancer of the colon, rectum and ovaries.

• Asbestosis. A severe respiratory disease, asbestosis is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers and dust, and can cause great damage to the victim’s lungs. Over time, that damage—which includes scarring of the lung—can make it difficult for the lung to get oxygen into the blood. As a result, victims experience severe shortness of breath. They often suffer heart disease, too, because the heart has to work harder to overcome the lung’s inefficiency. Like mesothelioma, asbestosis has no known cure, and victims are often required to use supplemental oxygen, greatly limiting their quality of life.

• Pleural thickening. In some individuals, the lining of the lung—known as the pleura—can harden in response to asbestos exposure. This can happen in one or both lungs, and, like asbestosis, it can severely restrict breathing. In extreme but not uncommon cases, the condition can be life threatening.

• Pleural plaques. While they often do not cause symptoms, these small areas of thickening, or scarring, of the lung are often a precursor to other asbestos-related diseases. They can be quite painful, too, once when the plaques harden.

• Asbestos warts. These callus-like growths are caused when asbestos fibers lodge in an individual’s skin. Like pleural plaques, they are a worrisome sign that someone has been exposed to asbestos and may be at risk of developing more serious diseases. Though themselves benign, asbestos warts can be a troubling signal of the devastation that may lie ahead.