Asbestos was widely used in building and construction in the UK between the 1950’s and late 1990’s before finally being banned in November 1999. Whilst still found in a lage number of homes and buildings to this date, since 1999 it has not been used in construction, due primarily to the fact that, when disturbed, the fibres which are released can be deadly, with a number of lung conditions related to this material. In order to take a look at the diseases which can be caused by exposure to asbestos, we’ve teamed up with Asbestos Advice Helpline, a team with over 20 years experience handling asbestos compensation claims.
When disturbed, asbestos releases thousands of tiny fibres into the air and, when inhaled, these can cause the onset of one or more of a number of diseases. The most commonly associated diseases with asbestos exposure are asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer and pleural thickening and whilst it is usually those who have had long term occupational exposure to asbestos, it isn’t unheard of for those without this prolonged exposure to contract such diseases. Asbestos related conditions have a long latency period and it can take anything up to 40 years or more for symptoms to show following the initial exposure. As such, in the case of malignant conditions, the Cancer is unfortunately generally too far advanced by the time of diagnosis meaning the prognosis of those with an asbestos related disease is rarely positive.
Asbestosis, in short, occurs when asbestos fibres cause scarring of the lung tissue, causing shortness of breath, a persistent cough and fatigue. Whilst asbestosis is a benign condition, it can ultimately lead to a higher risk of the development of pleural thickening, mesothelioma or lung cancer. Of course, this doesn’t mean that asbestosis doesn’t have a significant impact upon the sufferers quality of life and, in many instances, is the contributing factor to a shorter life expectancy.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelial cells which make the membrane which covers many of our organs. Mesothelioma is classified as either pleural mesothelioma, which develops in the tissue covering the lungs or peritoneal mesothelioma, which develops in the lining of the abdomen. It is generally pleural mesothelioma which is the most common form and that which is caused by asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, mesothelioma has a long latency period and, as such, the cancer is usually at an advanced stage upon diagnosis. There are, however a number of treatments available however these are generally only palliative and intended to improve the quality and length of life as opposed to offering a cure. The average survival from diagnosis is unfortunately only around 12 months, however research is continually being carried out in an attempt to provide a cure for this deadly disease.
Whilst lung cancer is commonly associated with development in smokers, asbestos exposure can also lead to this deadly disease. Whilst, being one of the most common cancers, treatments are perhaps at a more advanced level for lung cancer than mesothelioma, what must be remembered is that this is still regarded as one of the biggest killers. Whilst asbestos exposure is known to cause lung cancer, the risk is significantly increased in smokers. Lung cancer can develop following asbestosis, the scarring of the lung tissue and is often cited as the cause of death in patients with previous asbestos exposure.
Pleural thickening is, as the name says, the thickening of the pleura, the membrane which covers the lungs and causes a reduced lung function and chest pain. Whilst pleural thickening isn’t a malignant condition, the symptoms can cause a poor health and can lead to diseases such as mesothelioma.
Above all, the number of people diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases are still on the rise due to the level of exposure between the 50’s and 90’s, combined with the long latency period of symptoms. The diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease can be difficult, especially given the prognosis of lung cancer and mesothelioma, however all have a range of treatment options aimed at increasing both the quality of life and overall life expectancy.
If you’ve been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, we encourage you to seek independent advice as you may be entitled to claim compensation from a current or former employer if it can be proven that the exposure was as a result of negligence on their part.