Veterans Assistance
Medical Assistance

Asbestos Diseases

Asbestos consists of tiny, durable fibers that can be easily inhaled or ingested, leading to serious, deadly conditions. In fact, exposure to this naturally occurring mineral has been shown to increase the risk of asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, making their way to the lungs, where they cause severe breathing problems. Many of these fibers can be carried away, but others become trapped. Still others travel further to other parts of the body. Once stuck, the cells to divide abnormally, causing cancer and other asbestos-related conditions. Inhaling longer asbestos fibers may increase the severity of these diseases.

Most cases of lung cancer and asbestos diseases have been diagnosed 15 years after the initial exposure. Mesothelioma is usually diagnosed 20 to 50 years after exposure.


Considered a benign disease, asbestosis causes scarring and damage to the lungs. The condition takes years to develop, and many symptoms cause the disease to be misdiagnosed, given how much they have in common with less serious conditions. These symptoms include shortness of breath, chest tightness, weight loss, persistent cough, wheezing, chest pain, sleeping problems, respiratory infections, swelling of the hands, and clubbed fingers. Patients may also experience a crackling sound when they breathe and suffer high blood pressure in their lungs. Some people develop immune system problems, which interfere with healing and recovery.

Asbestosis is diagnosed upon conducting lung function tests. In rare cases, lung function can decrease, leading to heart disease and heart failure. Although there is no curative treatment for this aggressive disease, certain drugs can improve the condition, such as breathing medications and cough suppressants. In some cases, surgery may be an option.

Lung Cancer

Statistics show that every year, 3,400-8,500 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. This aggressive disease typically starts in the lining of the bronchi (breathing tubes), but it may also develop in the trachea (windpipe), alveoli (cavities that exchange blood with oxygen), or bronchioles (breathing tubes leading to the lungs). Like mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer does not fully develop for up to five decades after initial exposure.

The main types of lung cancer are small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Individuals diagnosed with these kinds of lung cancer experience hemoptysis (coughing up blood), shortness of breath, persistent chest pain, repeated respiratory infections, fluid buildup in the lungs, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, wheezing, and chronic coughing. Patients also often experience weight loss, bone pain, and fever.


Malignant Mesothelioma

Asbestos cancer, or malignant mesothelioma, affects approximately 2,500 people each year. This lethal disease attacks the mesothelium, a thin membrane lining the chest, heart, and abdomen.

Pleural, pericardial, and peritoneal mesothelioma are the main forms of asbestos cancer. The most common symptoms include muscle weakness, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, fever, night sweats, dry cough, lower back pain, extreme fatigue, and anemia. Depending on the type of cancer, patients may also experience problems with bowel function, fluid buildup in the lungs or abdomen, hoarseness, jaundice, bowel obstruction, and irregular heartbeats.

If you have been exposed to asbestos at work, contact a mesothelioma specialist to receive medical help. Make sure you also complete the form below to get a comprehensive information packet about mesothelioma and other asbestos-related disorders.

Last Edited: Sun July 26, 2020