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Overview of Asbestos-Related Disorders

By Lee S. Newman, MD, MA, Professor, Departments of Environmental and Occupational Health and Epidemiology; Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine, Colorado School of Public Health; Colorado University Anschutz

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Asbestos is a family of naturally occurring silicates whose heat-resistant and structural properties made it useful for inclusion in construction and shipbuilding materials, automobile brakes, and some textiles. Chrysotile (a serpentine fiber), crocidolite, and amosite (amphibole, or straight fibers) are the 3 main types of asbestos that cause disease. Asbestos can affect the lung, the pleura, or both.

Asbestos-related disorders are caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers. The disorders include

  • Asbestosis

  • Lung carcinoma

  • Nonmalignant pleural plaque formation and thickening

  • Benign pleural effusions

  • Mesothelioma

Asbestosis (see Asbestosis) and mesothelioma (see Mesothelioma) both cause progressive dyspnea, as do extensive effusions and plaques.