Asbestos is a term used for a number of natural minerals that are made of fine and microscopic fibers. These minerals are classified as silicates. The mineral is extracted in several regions including South America, Russia and Canada. Asbestos occurs in several forms. The problems with asbestos fibers is that they cannot be seen with the naked eye and are easily inhaled. The exposure to asbestos carries several risks among which the most serious one is associated with lung cancer and cancer of the pleura.
What are Effects of Asbestos on Health?
There is no reason for one to worry as long as asbestos is in a combined state. However, in case asbestos fibers are loose they are easily inhaled and tend to attach to the small airways and alveoli. What follows is ingestion of the inhaled fibers by macrophages. Only large fibers are not eliminated this way but are able to migrate in the texture. The fibers are also capable of spreading via lymphatic vessels and they may eventually end away from the small airways. They cause inflammation of the lung tissue and subsequent damage.
What are Dangers Associated with Asbestos?
Exposure to asbestos carries a risk of several medical conditions including asbestosis, asbestos pleurisy, lung cancer, mesothelioma (malignant tumor of the pleura) and pleural thickening.
These illnesses usually develop long after a person came in contact with asbestos. Whether the person will develop any of the previously mentioned conditions depends on the total amount of inhaled asbestos fibers. However in case of lung cancer and mesothelioma exposure to even small amounts of asbestos may eventually cause these malignant diseases.
Exposure to Asbestos and Associated Illnesses
As it has already been mentioned exposure to asbestos may cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
In case of asbestosis the inhaled asbestos fibers become trapped in the lungs and since the body is trying to dissolve the fibers this leads to damage to healthy lung tissue which eventually results in scarring. The final result is gradual loss of lung function. Asbestosis commonly develops 25-40 years after the exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma, a malignant tumor of the pleura is exclusively associated with previous exposure to asbestos. It develops 15-35 years after the exposure. Lung cancer, another result of asbestos exposure, may also occur after asbestos exposure but its incidence is definitely higher in people who are smokers. Even in case of lung cancer associated with asbestos exposure the disease develops 15-35 years after the exposure.
Unfortunately, there are no tests and exams that are possible to detect the presence of asbestos fibers in the lungs after initial exposure. All the radiological signs develop after many years and when the inflammation or the tumor has caused damage to the lung tissue. Lost of lung function eventually leads to complete development of symptoms and signs of the disease. Once the diagnosis of asbestosis, mesotheliona and lung cancer associated with asbestos exposure are confirmed the prognosis is not so good.