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What Diseases Are Caused by Asbestos?

Legally Reviewed by Joseph P. Williams on December 29, 2023

Asbestos is a scientifically proven human carcinogen, meaning exposure to asbestos is known to cause cancer in humans. Asbestos is a mineral that was often used in the past in building and construction materials due to its natural fire-resistant properties. Millions of people were exposed to asbestos before federal regulations banned its use. Today, people still face the risk of asbestos exposure in remaining products and materials, talc mines, old buildings, and while on active military duty. Exposure to asbestos can lead to many serious diseases, most of which do not develop symptoms until many years later.

The World Health Organization estimates 125 million people worldwide are currently being exposed to asbestos at work. There are many occupations with asbestos-exposure risks in New York, a fact that has contributed to 2,406 deaths in New York alone since 1999. 2,080 of those deaths have been from mesothelioma; 326 have been from asbestosis, another asbestos-related disease. About 15,000 people die from asbestos-exposure in the U.S. every year. Despite this, the United States remains one of only a handful of countries to have yet to ban the material outright.

Noncancerous Scarring Diseases

Asbestos can affect the lungs and other organs in the body in many different ways if a victim breathes in or ingests particles. The two main categories of asbestos-related diseases are cancerous and noncancerous. Most noncancerous diseases have to do with a buildup of scar tissues in the organs due to lodged asbestos particles causing irritation or inflammation.

  • Asbestosis. A chronic disease from inhaling asbestos that causes fibrotic scarring inside of the lung (the parenchyma). It can cause a cough, chest pain, trouble swallowing, loss of appetite, weight loss, and swelling of the neck and face.
  • Pleural plaque. Scarring of the lining outside of the lung (the pleura). Pleural plaque describes smooth lesions that often do not cause symptoms unless they lead to more serious diseases. If scarring interferes with breathing, it is diffuse pleural thickening.
  • Pleural effusion. Fluid building up in the space between the lungs and rest of the chest, putting pressure on the lungs that can cause chest pain, trouble breathing and coughing.
  • Asbestosis exposure is the most common cause of atelectasis: an unusual type of collapsed lung in which pleural effusion causes the lung to fold in on itself. Symptoms can include pain in the chest and shortness of breath.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a chronic lung disease that can come from asbestos or a history of smoking. It can cause cyanosis (blue lips or fingernails), shortness of breath, persistent cough, mucus, wheezing, fatigue and respiratory infections.

Asbestos fibers in the body can cause other noncancerous health conditions as well, such as pleural fibrosis, pleurisy and pulmonary fibrosis. A patient with a noncancerous type of asbestos-related disease could still be eligible for compensation from the party responsible for asbestos exposure.

Malignant (Cancerous) Diseases

Asbestos exposure could also lead to cancerous or malignant growths in the lungs and other organs. Most cancerous asbestos-related diseases do not appear until long after exposure – often 20 to 40 years. If carcinogenic asbestos fibers cause a malignant disease, it is often terminal for the patient.

  • Mesothelioma. The most severe asbestos-related disease. Malignant mesothelioma is a cancerous tumor that grows on the pleura of the lung. It can cause symptoms such as persistent dry cough, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, chest pain and fluid buildup. No known cure for mesothelioma exists.
  • Lung cancer. A cancerous tumor in the parenchyma of the lung. It differs from mesothelioma in that it forms in the meat of the lungs rather than the outer lining. It can cause similar symptoms as mesothelioma.
  • Cancer in other parts of the body. Although pleural mesothelioma is the most common, asbestos can also cause malignant cancer in the abdomen, heart, ovaries and testes. Asbestos particles can become embedded in the linings of theses organs after inhalation or ingestion and eventually create malignant tumors.

If asbestos exposure gave you or a loved one any type of cancerous or noncancerous disease, contact a New York mesothelioma attorney right away for legal advice. The law may entitle you to compensation through one or more outlets, including a personal injury claim, wrongful death suit, workers’ compensation claim and veterans’ benefits. A successful suit could provide your family with justice and financial stability during this difficult time.

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