Asbestos products were used by the building industry for decades, because many of the qualities of the substance were incredibly beneficial. Depending on the type of processing that the asbestos had undergone, asbestos products could be durable, fireproof, waterproof, good electrical insulators, good heat insulators and incredibly malleable. However, asbestos is now known to be harmful to humans
and hundreds of thousands of people have become unwell due to exposure to asbestos fibres. These fibres are a contributing factor in a number of different medical conditions. Most people who develop asbestos-related medical conditions were exposed to asbestos as part of their job; however some people do become ill after minimal, accidental exposure.
Asbestosis is a chronic medical condition that is widely associated with exposure to asbestos fibres. Symptoms start to present themselves because of severe scarring to the lungs and respiratory system.
The earliest sign of asbestosis is usually a shortness of breath. Patients are likely to experience mild shortness of breath after exercising in the first instance. This may not be immediately noticeable, as many healthy people experience some shortness of breath after an exercise session. Over time, shortness of breath is likely to worsen or last longer after each physical activity session.
As the illness progresses even further, shortness of breath may occur after minimal movement or may become a constant problem. Sufferers may start to wheeze when breathing whilst at rest. They may develop a persistent cough and coughing fits may be uncontrollable.
Due to problems with breathing, patients can become fatigued.
Due to reductions in the amount of oxygen entering the blood stream, additional strain is placed on the heart. It is forced to pump harder to transport oxygen around the body. This may result in chest pains and an increased risk of heart disease. Deoxygenation may also lead to swelling (clubbing) in the fingers and toes.
At present there is no cure for asbestosis and most treatment types are palliative. Surgery may be considered to remove areas of heavy scarring, although this is unlikely to reverse symptoms.
People who are experiencing severe breathing difficulties may require on-going oxygen therapy to make breathing easier. Patients may also need to make lifestyle changes to help to reduce breathing problems, such as avoiding smoking.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer which affects the soft tissue lining of various organs. In addition to the lining of the lungs, this type of cancer can affect the lining of the heart, tummy or testicles. Although mesothelioma is normally associated with asbestos exposure, some people who develop the condition have had no known exposure to the harmful fibres.
The symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to the symptoms of asbestosis; however the symptoms are usually more extreme. In many cases, asbestosis will develop into mesothelioma.
When mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs, the symptoms can include; severe shortness of breath, extreme fatigue,
a high temperature, night sweats, chest pains, a persistent cough, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, and swollen extremities (clubbed fingertips). If mesothelioma affects the lining of the tummy, symptoms can include; swelling of the stomach, tummy pains, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, diarrhoea or constipation.
As the illness progresses, the cancer may spread to different areas of the body. This type of cancer is normally terminal and only 10% of patients live for more than 5 years with the disease. Treatment will normally involve chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Surgery may be an option if the cancer is discovered during the early stages, but is unlikely to be a viable option once the cancer had started to spread.
Asbestos exposure can also lead to other forms of lung cancer. The symptoms of lung cancer are similar to the symptoms of mesothelioma, although they may be slightly different.
Common symptoms of lung cancer include; a cough that lasts longer than three weeks or gets progressively worse over a matter of weeks, breathing difficulties, recurring chest infections, pains or aches when breathing, constant tiredness or fatigue, loss of appetite, unexpected weight loss, and coughing up blood. In some circumstances, the patient may have; difficulties swallowing, develop a hoarse voice and swelling of the neck.
Treatments for lung cancer are very similar to the treatments that are available for mesothelioma, although surgery is considered to be a more viable option.
Lung cancer normally presents itself as a small growth in the first instance and it may be possible to remove this growth, depending on the location. In extreme circumstances, the doctor may need to remove the entire lung. This is normally only a feasible option if the other lung is considered to be healthy enough. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are both used to reduce the size of the growths and control the spread of the cancer.