People with asbestos-related pleural disease may have difficulty breathing.
Diagnosis is based on history and chest imaging findings.
Treatment focuses on relief of symptoms.
(See also Overview of Asbestos-Related Disorders Overview of Asbestos-Related Disorders Asbestos is the collective name for a group of naturally occurring silicates (which are a type of mineral) whose heat-resistant and structural properties are useful in construction and insulating... read more and Overview of Environmental and Occupational Lung Disease Overview of Environmental and Occupational Lung Disease Environmental and occupational lung diseases result from inhalation of dusts, chemicals, gases, fumes, and other airborne exposures. The lungs are continually exposed to the external environment... read more .)
Asbestos is a family of naturally occurring silicates (minerals) whose heat-resistant and structural properties are useful in construction and shipbuilding materials, automobile brakes, and some textiles. Asbestos can be found in low levels in the air, water, and soil, but this low level of environmental exposure is not a significant contributor to human disease. When inhaled, asbestos fibers settle deep in the lungs, causing scars.
Asbestos inhalation can cause the membranes covering the lungs (the pleura) to thicken and become scarred. These thickenings are called pleural plaques and do not usually cause symptoms. If pleural plaques become more extensive they can cause breathing difficulty and mild breathing abnormalities on lung function testing. Pleural plaques do not become cancerous.
Inhaling asbestos fibers can occasionally cause fluid to accumulate in the space between the two pleural layers of the lungs (pleural space). This fluid accumulation is called a noncancerous (benign) asbestos effusion. People with a noncancerous asbestos effusion may have difficulty breathing.
Although asbestos-related pleural plaques and fluid accumulation are not cancerous, they are indicative of past asbestos exposure and therefore an increased risk for developing lung cancer Lung Cancer Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. About 85% of cases are related to cigarette smoking. One common symptom is a persistent cough or a change in the character... read more and mesothelioma Mesothelioma Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the mesothelium, which is the thin, transparent membrane that lines the pleura and covers and lines the inside of the chest wall and abdomen. The most common... read more .
Diagnosis of Asbestos-Related Pleural Disease
A history of asbestos exposure
Pleural plaques that develop in many people with exposure to asbestos often contain calcium, which makes them easy to see on chest x-rays and computed tomography (CT).
Treatment of Asbestos-Related Pleural Disease
Treatment to relieve symptoms
Symptoms are treated as necessary. Occasionally, doctors need to drain fluid by inserting a tube into the chest.