Mesothelioma is one of the most well-known diseases someone can develop from asbestos exposure, but many other types of diseases originate from asbestos exposure, as well. Each of these diseases can affect a patient’s quality of life, and several of them can be life-threatening such as asbestosis and several forms of lung cancer

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Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that originates in the mesothelium or protective lining of cells around internal organs. It will usually grow in a sheet-like formation. There are many types of mesothelioma, which are characterized by the area of the body affected.

  • Pleural Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma cancer affecting the lungs.
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma cancer affecting the organs in the abdominal cavity.
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma cancer affecting the heart.
  • Testicular Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma cancer affecting the testes.

Symptoms of mesothelioma will depend on the location of the cancer and can include:

  • Chest pain or back pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A chronic cough, sometimes producing blood
  • Hoarseness of the voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid on the lungs
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Fever
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Fluid on the heart
  • Nerve damage in the limbs or fac

Prognosis for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma will also depend on the location of the cancer, as well as how advanced the cancer is at the time of diagnosis. There is no cure for this cancer, but many patients achieve some symptom relief and prolonged life from treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a lung disease associated with inhalation of asbestos fibers. The fibers become trapped inside the lungs and create irritation and scarring throughout time, which leads to stiffening of the lungs. As the disease progresses, lung tissue becomes further compromised with thick scarring. Eventually, the lungs can become so rigid that they are unable to expand and contract normally.

Symptoms of asbestosis include:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Tightness in the chest
  • A chronic cough
  • Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite
  • “Clubbing” of the fingertips and toes (affected digits appear wider than normal)

Asbestosis can sometimes be a precursor to mesothelioma and can lead to lung cancer. People who smoke are at an increased risk of developing asbestosis after exposure to asbestos fibers. There are no available treatments to reverse asbestosis. Affected patients are usually placed on oxygen therapy to help them with breathing difficulties caused by the disease.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading type of cancer in the United States, outpacing colon cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer combined. Asbestos exposure is one known cause of lung cancer. People who smoke have the highest risk of developing lung cancer, particularly after asbestos exposure, but even people who do not smoke can be diagnosed with lung cancer.

Symptoms of lung cancer can include:

  • A persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Body aches or bone/joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Chest pain

The prognosis for a patient with lung cancer will depend on how quickly the cancer was detected. Some patients can achieve remission with treatment involving surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and/or targeted drug therapy.

Pleural Effusion

Pleural effusion is an excessive buildup of fluid on the lungs. Pleural effusion can be caused by exposure to asbestos and affects the membrane lining the lungs and chest cavity, called the pleura. Some fluid is usually present in the pleura, but too much fluid can cause medical complications and can become malignant.

Symptoms of pleural effusion include:

  • Chest pain
  • A chronic cough (dry)
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty breathing when not sitting straight or standing (orthopnea)

The seriousness of pleural effusion will usually depend on the underlying cause. In the case of asbestos exposure as the underlying cause, the condition can be quite severe and can lead to cancer. Patients can be treated with drainage of the fluid, pleural sclerosis — a condition in which a drug is instilled in the pleural cavity to cause scarring that will force out fluid and prevent its return — and surgery. In the event of malignancy, patients can also be treated with chemotherapy and radiation with some positive results.

Pneumothorax

Pneumothorax occurs when air accumulates between a lung and the chest wall. The air pushes on the lung and causes it to collapse. Sometimes, a portion of the lung will collapse, and sometimes, the entire lung will collapse. Pneumothorax is one potential complication suffered by patients who have compromised lungs after asbestos exposure. Diseased lungs are more likely to collapse under the pressure of the trapped air.

Symptoms of pneumothorax will depend on the extent of the lung’s collapse and can include:

  • Sudden, severe chest pain
  • Extreme shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Coughing

In an imaging study, the air buildup and collapsed lung can resemble mesothelioma. In fact, some patients with mesothelioma are incorrectly diagnosed with pneumothorax. Treatment of pneumothorax will involve insertion of a needle or chest tube to remove the air and release the pressure on the lung, allowing it to re-expand. If this procedure is unsuccessful, a patient may require surgery to close the air leak.

Pleural Plaque

Pleural plaque is a thickening of or formation of scar tissue inside the pleural cavity. The condition can develop from irritation in the lungs caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers. Pleural plaque is one complication of asbestos exposure that is usually not serious. It is noncancerous, and most patients who develop pleural plaque do not experience any symptoms. In more advanced cases, patients might suffer some loss of lung capacity and feel short of breath.

Asbestos Warts

Asbestos warts are the least worrisome condition related to asbestos exposure, but they are still considered an asbestos-related disease. Asbestos warts occur when asbestos fibers become lodged under the skin, resulting in hard, benign growths on the outside of the skin. The warts usually respond well to treatment but can return.

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