Asbestos poisoning is the impact that asbestos exposure can have on humans. Its toxicity stems from the fact that the microscopic fibers which make up asbestos in its pure form can have a devastating impact on human health when they are inhaled or ingested. Asbestos fibers are produced by asbestos products that are deteriorating or that have been mangled in some fashion. When asbestos products become worn they become “friable,” which means that they will crumble and release asbestos fibers into the air.
When a person inhales or accidently swallows asbestos fibers, there is no immediate reaction as with toxins that are usually referred to as poisons; in fact, if you were to swallow or inhale asbestos fibers you probably wouldn’t notice. They are invisible to the human eye and light enough to stay afloat in a cloud of dust for a long period. Asbestos poisoning is the result of asbestos fibers becoming lodged in the human body which cannot shed them through natural methods.
Impact of Asbestos Poisoning
The three principal and most lethal results of asbestos poisoning are asbestosis, malignant mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer. Asbestosis occurs when the asbestos fibers embedded in the inner lung tissue cause the tissue to harden and lose much of its ability to absorb oxygen. The disease is progressive; an asbestosis victim will gradually loose lung capacity and the ability to engage in extended physical endeavors.
Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer that develops in the mesothelium, a membrane that lines the body’s chest and abdominal cavities. Sections of this membrane also wrap around the lungs and form a sac around the heart for protective purposes. When asbestos fibers lodge in the mesothelium they can cause the development of malformed cells that are malignant and that multiply uncontrollably. Pleural mesothelioma, or cancer in the outer lining of the lung, is the most common form of the disease representing two thirds or more of all cases.
Lung cancer from asbestos exposure can also develop when asbestos fibers become lodged in the lungs. When mesothelioma is in its advanced stages, tumors begin to develop in nearby tissues and organs. The lungs are just beneath the cancerous tissue that develops with pleural mesothelioma, and lung cancer – malignant tumors within the lung – can be caused by metastatic mesothelioma. However it is also true that asbestos poisoning in the lungs can cause lung cancer or be a contributing cause, especially with smokers who have been exposed to asbestos fibers and who develop lung cancer.
Asbestos Poisoning Symptoms
One of the unusual characteristics of asbestos-caused diseases is the length of time that they take to develop after a person has inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers. The latency period for mesothelioma is between twenty and fifty years. An analysis of over 2,500 cases in the Italian registry for the disease showed a median latency of 44.6 years. Someone who inhaled asbestos-laden dust on a construction site while in his late twenties may begin to show symptoms of mesothelioma well after he has retired.
Asbestosis can take twenty years to develop, as can asbestos cancer symptoms. Asbestos poisoning also shares early symptoms with many other, more common diseases such as pneumonia and COPD. Tightness in the chest, a persistent dry cough, shortness of breath and chest pain all are characteristics of asbestos diseases – and many others as well. That means that asbestos diseases often aren’t diagnosed until they have developed into a major health problem.
Asbestos Disease Cure
Both asbestosis and mesothelioma are progressive, incurable diseases. Asbestosis grows slowly worse over a long period of time, while mesothelioma is a very aggressive malignancy. The average survival time for a mesothelioma patient after diagnosis seems to hover around twelve months, although these figures can be deceptive for cases that are diagnosed early and treated aggressively.
A 2005 report that surveyed the skilled use of surgery and chemotherapy in treating pleural mesothelioma showed a reduction in morbidity rate that was traditionally ranged from 35% to 50%, down to less than four percent. Median survival time jumped to nineteen months, with two year survival rate at 38% of patients and five year survival at 19%. These figures indicate substantial steps forward with effective treatment modalities and experienced surgeons. So progress is being made.
- Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/asbestos/exposure2.html
- Brigham and Women’s Hospital, http://www.brighamandwomens.org/mesothelioma/Pleural_Mesothelioma.aspx
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/asbestos/health_effects/#lungcancer
- European Journal of Cancer, Marinaccio et al, December 2007, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17980576
- Multimedia Manual of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Greene et al., http://mmcts.ctsnetjournals.org/cgi/content/full/2005/0628/mmcts.2004.000133