Mesothelioma and Asbestosis - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by the aspiration of asbestos fibers, also known as asbestos, which can lead to respiratory failure, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma.

Asbestos-related lung diseases
Asbestos-related lung diseases


Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber widely used by industry due to its high heat resistance (up to 1000ÂșC), chemical and tensile strength, great flexibility, durability, sound insulation and its low cost.

Asbestos (asbestos) is used in many areas such as mining, construction, shipbuilding, railway construction, chemical industry, automobile industry, plumbing, fireproof coatings, sound insulation, fabrication of asbestos cement and more of 2500 other products.

Among the professionals with the highest risk of exposure to asbestos are:
  • Plumbers
  • Welders
  • Caretakers
  • Electricians
  • Wood workers
  • Construction and naval workers
  • Mineradores
  • People who work with insulating materials

Asbestos was one of the main raw materials during the process of global industrialization in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, when diseases associated with contact with asbestos dust and microscopic fibers began to be identified. Since then, asbestos has come to be known as killer dust.

Asbestos-based materials have been banned throughout the European Union and Australia, but for all knowledge of the risks of asbestos exposure, economic interests still maintain high asbestos production in some countries, notably Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Canada, and Brazil, the five largest producers in the world.

The exploitation of asbestos of the type chrysotile suffers great defense in the Senate and in the chamber of the deputies by the call "bench of the asbestos". This group claims that there is no scientific evidence to prove that this form of asbestos (chrysotile) is harmful to health and, therefore, its ban would harm an industry that moves around 2.5 billion reais a year.

Actually chrysotile asbestos is less harmful, but it is by no means harmless. The major problem is that diseases caused by asbestos annually reach a very small part of the population, while the profits that this activity generates are exorbitant.

1. Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by the aspiration of asbestos dust. The mineral when inhaled and absorbed by the lungs triggers an inflammatory reaction that ultimately leads to lung fibrosis, replacing healthy and functioning lung tissue with scars.

Symptoms of asbestosis only appear after 2-3 decades of exposure, which in some countries is increasing in incidence, as patients are manifesting symptoms of an illness that began in the 1970s and 1980, a time when there was still no major control under the exploitation of asbestos.

The development of asbestosis depends on the exposure time, the type of asbestos exposed and the amount of inhaled powder. All types of asbestos can cause asbestosis.

Symptoms of asbestosis

The first symptoms of asbestosis are shortness of breath and intolerance to exertion, caused by pulmonary fibrosis. As the disease progresses, dry cough and chest pain appear on breathing. Shortness of breath tends to worsen over time, and in advanced stages, it is present even when the patient is at rest.

The emergence of digital clubbing (sticks-shaped fingers) is a sign of lung disease and poor chronic oxygenation.

The appearance of plaques in the pleura and pleural effusion are other common manifestations of asbestosis.

Pulmonary tissue destruction can lead to pulmonary hypertension, which in turn leads to cor pulmonale, heart failure caused by lung diseases.

Treatment of asbestosis

There is no treatment to cure asbestosis. Fibrosis that occurs in the lungs is irreversible and treatment is limited to discontinuing exposure to asbestos, avoiding smoking - which accelerates the destruction of the lungs - and administering oxygen to those with significant shortness of breath.

2. Malignant mesothelioma

The mesothelium is a type of tissue that makes up the thin membranes that surround some of our organs such as the pericardium with the heart, the pleura in the case of the lungs and the peritoneum that surrounds our intra-abdominal organs.

Mesothelioma is cancer that arises from these cells.

The pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of malignant mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma followed by, pericardial mesothelioma, and finally, the testicular mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer, the association of which is virtually exclusive to people exposed to asbestos. More than 70% of the cases are clearly related to asbestos. Most of these 30% with no established cause are probably also related to asbestos, but since cancer usually occurs decades after exposure, it is not always possible to establish a causal relationship between asbestos and malignant mesothelioma. Approximately 8% of workers who have contact with asbestos, will develop malignant mesothelioma.

Symptoms of malignant mesothelioma

The symptoms of malignant mesothelioma depend on the affected mesothelium. The two most common forms are pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. Its most common symptoms are:
  • Pleural mesothelioma: shortness of breath, pleuritic chest pain (which occurs with deep breathing), weight loss, fever and night sweats are the main symptoms. Chest X-rays are common to find pleural effusion in the affected lung.
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma: Ascites, abdominal pain, nausea, weight loss and, in advanced cases, signs of intestinal obstruction.

Treatment of malignant mesothelioma

There is no cure for malignant mesothelioma and the median survival since diagnosis is only 9 months. Current treatments aim to increase survival and include surgery for tumor resection associated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

3. Lung cancer

In addition to mesothelioma, a cancer typical and practically restricted to those with asbestos exposure, other cancers also occur more frequently due to asbestos. The main one is lung cancer, whose risk rises up to 60 times after exposure to asbestos.

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