The Main Four Asbestos Diseases

Most people today still don’t realise the dangers of asbestos, nor do they realise what the effects of exposure to asbestos can actually do to them. Asbestos exposure can take decades to develop into a number of fatal diseases. It is vital that awareness of the risks is increased, and action is taken to reduce the risks of asbestos diseases from unintentional exposure.

What are the main four types of asbestos diseases?

There are many asbestos diseases, we discuss the main four in this article.

1)    Mesothelioma

A type of benign (non-cancerous) or malignant cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and in a small number of cases the lining of the abdomen. Experts believe that the vast majority of cases are due to past asbestos fibres exposure. These fibres generally eventually (usually over decades) mutate DNA and trigger cancerous tumour growth.

2)    Lung Cancer

The third most prevalent form of cancer in the UK, lung cancer is most associated with smoking cigarettes. Around 10% of cases though are for people who have never smoked. Many of the non-smoking cases are thought to have originated from breathing in microscopic asbestos fibres.

Slide from a lung cancer smear showing asbestos-related lung cancer

Slide from a lung cancer smear showing asbestos-related lung cancer

3)    Asbestosis

This is non-malignant scarring of the lungs caused by asbestos exposure that led to inhaling microscopic asbestos fibres. This is non-cancerous but is a condition that leads to great difficulty with breathing. The lungs struggle to provide sufficient oxygen into the bloodstream. This disease is life-altering as much as it’s a killer and many sufferers also are at risk of contracting lung cancer.

4)    Pleural Plaque and thickening

This is a non-cancerous condition creating a thickening of the outer lining of the lungs (the pleura). The plaques (similar to the philosophy of plaque accumulation on teeth) are areas of scarring build-up (or thickening) on the pleura. Pleural plaque can be on either or both lungs. As time progresses the conditions and symptoms worsen.

Pleural thickening is a more serious version of the condition. This is where the plaque patches are more established and widespread. The lungs will often be significantly restricted and sufferers will typically suffer from breathlessness. Although not fatal in itself, pleural thickening can be a pre-cursor to Mesothelioma and does require medical intervention.

How many asbestos-related deaths are there each year in the UK?

More than 5,000 people per year die from asbestos-related illnesses. Statistics from the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) published in 2021, revealed that in 2019 death rates were:

  • Mesothelioma – 2,369 deaths
  • Lung cancer – 2,500 deaths (estimate) and
  • Asbestosis – 490 deaths

Risky occupations

Some people are more likely to have been exposed to the conditions required to get these diseases, these include most of the building trades; plumbers, carpenters, electricians, painters etc, also heavy engineering professions such as shipbuilders and railway engineers.

The one group that has come out of the left-field so to speak is the number of housewives that have been exposed, it is suspected that this group of affected individuals has been exposed to asbestos through contact with their partner or husband’s work overalls.

Contacting the NHS

Or if you think you have been exposed to asbestos diseases then contact the NHS and arrange for an examination by a health care professional.

Asbestos diseases - related pages

The following are related pages that will advance your learning of asbestos diseases:

Contact information for Safeline Environmental

We at Safeline Environmental cannot stress enough the importance of getting any asbestos, however small the amount, removed from your environment immediately. Contact us in the following ways:


Image Credit: Wikipedia


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