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Asbestos fibres are found in the environment in the UK. Working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials or breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres, (which may be many hundreds of times that of environmental levels) could increase your chances of getting an asbestos-related disease.
When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases which are responsible for around 4000 deaths a year.
There are four main disease associated with Asbestos;
Mesothelioma is a formerly rare form of cancer which affects the pleura (the lining of the lungs) and the peritoneum (the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract). In the majority of cases mesothelioma is rapidly fatal following diagnosis so mesothelioma death statistics give a clear indication of the disease incidence. Mesothelioma is closely related to asbestos and many cases, particularly among men, are a result of exposures in occupational settings. However, mesothelioma has been reported in some individuals without any known exposure to asbestos. The long delay between initial exposure to asbestos and death from mesothelioma is typically between 30 and 40 years. This means that deaths occurring now and most of those expected to occur in the future reflect industrial conditions of the past rather than current work practices.
For more information on Mesothelioma visit NHS - Mesothelioma.
Asbestos has been recognised as an important risk factor for lung cancer for many years. However, there are a number of other agents that can cause the disease - most importantly, tobacco smoke - and lung cancers resulting from asbestos exposure are clinically indistinguishable from those caused by these other agents
For more information on Lung cancer visit NHS - Lung cancer.
Asbestosis is defined as lung fibrosis caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibres. Diagnosis is made on the basis of clinical features, X-ray appearances and a history of heavy asbestos exposure. It is generally recognised that heavy asbestos exposures are required in order to produce clinically significant asbestosis within the lifetime of an individual. Current trends therefore still largely reflect the results of heavy exposures in the past.
For more information on Asbestosis visit NHS - Asbestosis.
The pleura is a two-layered membrane which surrounds the lungs and lines the inside of the rib cage. Some asbestos fibres inhaled into lungs work their way out to the pleura and may cause fibrosis or scarring to develop there. This causes the pleura to thicken and this may show up on a chest X-ray or CT scan.
For more information on asbestos and how to protect against it see HSE - Asbestos health and safety.
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