While mesothelioma is the most deleterious consequence of asbestos exposure, there are other serious healthcare issues related to its exposure.
Asbestos related lung diseases can be divided into four main types:
1) Asbestosis (scarring of lung tissue)
2) Pleural plaques (localized areas of scarring on the lining of the lung or pleura)
3) Lung cancer (cancer of lung passages, also known as bronchogenic carcinoma)
4) Mesothelioma (cancer of lining of the lung). It is estimated that there will be about 250,000 cases of Mesothelioma before 2020.
Asbestosis is a process of widespread scarring of the lungs. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they illicit inflammatory response in the lung tissue. This inflammation eventually leads to scar formation and reduction in functional capacity of lungs. Similar phenomenon leads to localized scarring of the lining of lungs leading to formation of pleural plaques. These plaques can be seen on x-ray.
Like smoking, asbestos also increases the risk of lung cancer. This cancer is similar to that seen in smokers. Among asbestos workers, one death in five is due to lung cancer and one in ten due to mesothelioma.
All of the commonly available commercial forms of asbestos have been linked to cancerous and non-cancerous lung disease.