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What is asbestos?

Your doctor may also order X-rays to look for a white or honeycomb appearance on your lungs or chest. Pulmonary lung function tests may be used to measure the amount of air you can inhale and the airflow to and from your lungs. Your doctor might also test to see how much oxygen is transferred from your lungs to your bloodstream. CT scans can be used to examine your lungs in more detail.


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Your doctor might also order a biopsy to look for asbestos fibers in a sample of your lung tissue. However, there are a few treatments that can help control or reduce symptoms. Prescription inhalers may help loosen congestion in your lungs. Supplemental oxygen from a mask or tubes that fit inside your nose can help if you have severe difficulty breathing. Asbestosis treatments also involve preventing the disease from getting worse.

You can do this by avoiding further exposure to asbestos and by quitting smoking. Asbestosis can lead to malignant mesothelioma, a severe form of lung cancer. Other types of lung cancer may develop if you smoke. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is another serious condition that can result from asbestosis. A buildup of fluid around your lungs, known as pleural effusion, is also associated with asbestosis.

Factors that affect the severity of the disease include how long you were exposed to asbestos and how much of it you inhaled. The condition progresses at a slower rate once your exposure to asbestos stops. People who have the disease but do not develop complications can survive for decades. Be sure to use every piece of safety equipment at work and follow all safety procedures if your job regularly exposes you to asbestos. Employers must watch the levels of exposure in the workplace and only allow work that involves dealing with asbestos to be done in specified areas.

Federal laws also require workplaces to have decontamination areas.

5 Diseases You Should Know Are Caused by Asbestos Exposure

Employee training sessions are required as well. Routine medical exams, which can lead to an early diagnosis of asbestosis, are also covered under federal law. Generally, the latency periods are quite long.

It can take 10—50 years or more for the symptoms of an asbestos-related condition to appear. Family members of workers heavily exposed to asbestos may also face an increased risk of developing cancer. This risk results either from exposure to asbestos fibers, brought into the home on the clothing, shoes, skin, and hair of workers, or it is the consequence of the family living close to the industrial site with releases into the ambient air of asbestos fibers.

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Several factors determine how asbestos exposure affects the individual. The dose is important ie, how much asbestos fibers an individual has inhaled and so is the duration ie, how long the individual worked in the exposing job. The type of fiber also determines the risk; however, there is now a wide international consensus that all the common asbestos types are associated with increased risk of cancer, particularly mesothelioma.

There are obvious variations in the carcinogenic potency between different forms of asbestos, but these issues do not, however, alter the fundamental conclusion that the epidemiologic evidence indicates that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are carcinogenic to humans. In addition to mesothelioma and lung cancer, asbestos also causes cancers of the larynx and ovaries 5, 8.

The current consensus report updates the state-of-the-art-criteria for diagnosis and attribution with respect to asbestos from the earlier Helsinki criteria of 11, 12 and the update Since asbestos-related diseases are generally rare and difficult to diagnose, special attention needs to be placed on the continuing education of medical personnel involved in the control of asbestos-induced health outcomes.

The diagnostic complexity of mesothelioma may lead to underreporting. Since , the diagnosing, detecting, reporting, and compensation have improved considerably in countries which have taken action on asbestos. For many industrialized countries, the mesothelioma numbers have doubled in 20 years, obviously partly due to a real increase but also partly through better detection. Past exposure to asbestos has not always been recognized early on, and, as mentioned previously, the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases may not become apparent for many decades after the initial exposure.

Computed tomography CT is more effective ie, sensitive than conventional chest X-rays at detecting the possible consequences of asbestos exposure.

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Health Effects of Asbestos

The current Helsinki criteria update recommends that individuals with a history of past exposure to asbestos, who meet the absolute lung cancer risk criteria set by randomized trials and existing lung cancer screening guidelines, should be offered screening with low-dose CT 9, 10, 15, The diagnosis is then based on the exposure history, clinical features of interstitial fibrosis, radiographic studies, and pulmonary function tests with restrictive physiology. A histological assessment for asbestosis is helpful if the aforementioned features are atypical or non-diagnostic.

A lung biopsy, which detects microscopic asbestos fibers in pieces of lung tissue, is the most reliable test to confirm the presence of asbestos-related abnormalities. The consequences of asbestos exposure can also be studied in bronchial lavage, where the cells are rinsed out of the lungs. Soluble biomarkers in pleural fluid effusions have been evaluated for the early diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma. However, none of the markers studied in pleural fluid or in serum have so far exhibited sufficient sensitivity and specificity for the diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma.

Many studies have shown that the combination of asbestos exposure and smoking is particularly hazardous. Smokers who are also exposed to asbestos have a risk of developing lung cancer that is greater than the individual risks from asbestos and smoking combined There is evidence that quitting smoking will reduce the risk of lung cancer among asbestos-exposed workers. Smoking combined with asbestos does not appear to increase the risk of mesothelioma. Trained occupational physicians and industrial hygienists are in a key position to determine the estimations for the past exposure. The role of pathologists and molecular toxicologists remains still at the secondary level, ie, to verify the exposures if uncertainties in the documented exposure history persist and to provide additional auxiliary data for diagnosis and any assessment of attribution.

Research for Your Health

Over 20 experts attended the meeting in Helsinki in February Consequently, all the participants were asked to sign a written Declaration of Interest form, with the purpose of having transparency about any potential conflict of interests. Relevant declarations of interest are available in the Acknowledgment section of the consensus report 9. References 1.


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    Asbestos exposure has been associated with serious lung disease. See your doctor if you think you have been exposed to asbestos. Smoking increases the risk of some asbestos-related diseases. If you stop smoking, it will help to protect your health. Asbestos can cause a number of serious diseases. Every year in Australia, hundreds of people die from asbestos-related disease. This material was in common use before the dangers to health were widely known. It is now illegal to use it in any new products in Australia.

    Asbestos was a common building material Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals. It is strong and heat resistant, which is why it was widely used in a range of products. Asbestos has been used in roofing, asbestos cement sheets and pipes, clutch and brake linings, insulation, building materials, boilers, electrical fittings, gaskets, floor tiles, plastics, textiles and other products.


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    Exposure to airborne asbestos particles Exposure to airborne asbestos particles is the greatest risk to health. When the asbestos fibres become airborne, people working with asbestos may inhale particles. These particles remain in the lungs and, over time, can cause disease. The use of asbestos was probably at its highest in the mid to late s, but asbestos cement products like asbestos flues and water pipes were still being installed into the s.

    Asbestos use in brake linings and pads and clutch plates has only recently been phased out. People who were involved in the following industries in the past were at greatest risk: Mining and manufacture of asbestos Shipbuilding Railway carriage construction Office and industrial building construction Power industries. Those at greatest risk of asbestos exposure Workers involved in the mining, milling or manufacture of asbestos and in the construction, power and shipbuilding industries may have been exposed in the period before stringent controls were enforced.

    Asbestos and the building trades Workers in the building trades such as plumbers, carpenters and electricians, could still be exposed to asbestos, especially those who are self-employed. People who work on asbestos-containing materials in such a way that fibres are released into the air — for example, when using power tools — are particularly at risk.

    When asbestos is not disturbed and the fibres remain contained, this does not pose a risk for people using the building. Asbestos use is now banned Since 31 December , asbestos and all products containing asbestos have been banned Australia-wide. They cannot be imported, stored, supplied, sold, installed, used or re-used. This ban does not extend to asbestos-containing products in existing installations such as vinyl floor tiles and asbestos cement AC roofing or sheeting.

    These products can be left in place until they need to be replaced. Further information is available in the EPA publication Asbestos Transport and Disposal, which describes the safe handling, transport and disposal of asbestos-containing waste. Asbestos in the home Asbestos products are still commonly found in homes built or renovated prior to Asbestos and bushfires During a fire, the amount of asbestos fibres released into the air is relatively low. Air monitoring after fires has confirmed this. However, asbestos clumps and some fibres may remain in the ash and may present a risk if disturbed while cleaning up after a fire.

    Dust should be wetted down and protective personal equipment dust mask, gloves and coveralls should be worn. In the event of asbestos-containing materials being burnt on your property, a licensed asbestos removalist should be arranged to perform the clean-up work. Asbestos can cause serious illness Asbestos fibres can cause health problems if they are breathed in. The body will remove most fibres that are breathed in, but some may get trapped in the lungs and cause disease many years later. Breathing in asbestos fibres can sometimes lead to: Asbestosis Lung cancer Pleural disorders Malignant mesothelioma.

    Asbestosis Asbestosis is not a cancer. It is a chronic and progressive lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibres over a long period of time. It may take five to 20 years before symptoms develop.

    Dr Barber Consultant Respiratory Physician on Asbestos Related Diseases

    The accumulated, inhaled asbestos fibres produce scarring fibrosis of the lung. Asbestosis causes breathlessness, tightness in the chest, persistent coughing and the skin may have a bluish tinge from lack of oxygen. Getting enough oxygen from each breath needs a much greater effort. Asbestosis usually worsens over time. It can lead to respiratory failure and death. There is no cure for this disease. Asbestosis can be diagnosed by x-ray fibrosis looks cloudy in chest x-rays or a lung function test.

    If you have been exposed to asbestos in the past, it is important to stop smoking to reduce your risk of getting asbestosis. If you stop smoking, you also reduce your risk of getting lung cancer. Lung cancer People exposed to large amounts of asbestos fibres over a long period of time have a significant risk of developing lung cancer. The risk is many times greater in people who also smoke.

    The tumour, if not treated early, spreads through the lung and eventually to other parts of the body. The most common symptom people first notice is a persistent cough.