By: Andrew S. Wainwright, Esq.Sep 19, 2013 3:47:00 PM

A person who has been exposed to (breathed in) asbestos may be at risk for several diseases. It is not necessary to have worked directly with asbestos to have breathed it in. The primary health risks of asbestos exposure are:

Mesothelioma is a cancer almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. There are four types of mesothelioma; the four types of mesothelioma all arise in the linings of the lungs and the gastrointestinal tract. While treatments have improved over the years, it is one of the deadliest of all cancers.

Lung cancer, when accompanied by a diagnosis of asbestosis (presence of asbestos scarring of the lungs.) Unfortunately, as with mesothelioma, the long-term survival rate for lung cancer is poor. The risk of contracting lung cancer is greatest in those exposed to asbestos who were also cigarette smokers. Cigarette smoke and asbestos combine to have a synergistic effect in the lungs, multiplying the risk of lung cancer when one suffers exposure to both substances

Asbestosis, also known as parenchymal asbestosis. This is scarring of the lung tissue itself (parenchyma) caused by asbestos fibers. Scarring from asbestosis causes the lung tissue to harden, making it difficult to move the lungs while breathing in and out. In the most severe cases of asbestosis the victim effectively dies from suffocation, unable to move oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the hardened lung tissue. Asbestos scarring from asbestosis results in what is called “restrictive” lung disease. Restrictive lung disease is different from COPD, which is known as an “obstructive” lung disease.

Pleural plaques, also known as pleural asbestosis, are one of the classic symptoms of asbestos exposure. Pleural asbestosis is a scarring of the pleura, the sac that encircles the lung tissue (parenchyma), and not the lung tissue itself. Pleural plaques rarely result in noticeable symptoms.

Gastrointestinal cancers. Scientists believe that several gastrointestinal cancers are also caused by asbestos exposure, including cancers of the throat, larynx, colon and rectum.

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that was heavily used as a component of many building products – things like insulation, ceiling sprays, floor tiles, etc. – until very recently. Asbestos, unlike lead paint, however, has never been banned in the United States. Workers were exposed to asbestos in building and ship construction and through renovation and demolition of sites and products where asbestos was used. People continue to be exposed to asbestos as it is disturbed in renovation and repair projects. Sadly, family members of people who worked with asbestos often breathe in asbestos that is carried home on work clothing. The dangerous nature of asbestos when used or disturbed is that it readily enters the body by becoming both breathable and ingestible.

Asbestos has unique physical properties that contribute to its lethal qualities. Raw asbestos breaks off into smaller fibers, some visible, some microscopically small and invisible. The fibers are shaped like little sharp-edged parallelograms. Because of this shape asbestos fibers remain suspended in the air far longer than any other form of dust, and can be inhaled or swallowed over much longer periods of time.

When asbestos fibers are breathed into the lungs, their sharp edges embed themselves deep into the lung tissue. Once embedded in lung tissue, asbestos cannot be exhaled or released. The time period between exposure to asbestos and the development of disease is referred to as the latency period. All of the asbestos-related diseases including mesothelioma, asbestosis, and cancer, have long latency periods, sometimes, in the case of mesothelioma, the latency period is upwards of 39 or more years.

If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease – even if it is scarring of the pleura and you don’t have any symptoms – you should contact an attorney to protect your legal rights. The asbestos attorneys at Thornton Law Firm, Boston, Massachusetts’ largest mesothelioma law firm, will listen to your story, gather the supporting evidence, and file everything necessary to pursue the compensation you deserve. Tell us your story online or call our dedicated Boston mesothelioma lawyers at 888-632-0108 to start your claim today.