Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in the UK in both men and women. Although cigarette smoking is a major cause, exposure to asbestos is also strongly implicated. Asbestos is known to multiply the cancer-causing effects of cigarette smoking many times and is believed to contribute to 2,000 of the 34,500 deaths annually in the United Kingdom from lung cancer.
Inhalation of significant amounts of asbestos fibres may cause scarring of the lung tissue responsible for gaseous exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, resulting in shortness of breath. Asbestosis may contribute to other medical conditions or cause death. In 2007, there were about 700 Disablement Benefit Cases and in 2006 there were 393 deaths where the death certificate mentioned asbestosis: of these 111 had asbestos recorded as the underlying cause of death
Pleural plaques are isolated areas of thickening of the parietal pleura (the inside lining of the chest wall), which may become hard and calcified. Pleural plaques alone rarely cause symptoms, although some patients do experience pain and shortness of breath. They are an indication of exposure to asbestos but evidence is lacking that the presence of pleural plaques increases the risk of malignancy over and above the existing risk as a result of that exposure. Pleural plaques confirm exposure to asbestos and may give rise to anxiety in some individuals
This is more widespread thickening of the pleura, which may cause symptoms if it is extensive. Patients with this condition are entitled to apply for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. There were 390 new cases of disablement benefit for diffuse pleural thickening in 2007 and this number is increasing.
Malignant Mesothelioma is a cancer of the (mesothelial) cells which form the lining of chest (pleural) and abdominal (peritoneal) cavities. Malignant pleural mesothelioma is many times more common than peritoneal mesothelioma, which is also caused by asbestos.
- Mesothelioma is the 12th most common cancer killer in men and the cancer of most rapidly increasing incidence in women. There were 2,156 deaths in 2007
- A peak incidence of 2,500 deaths per year from mesothelioma is expected in about 2,015
- The UK has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world
- Mesothelioma is related to occupational asbestos exposure in about 90% of cases
- At least 70,000 people already exposed to asbestos in the UK will die from mesothelioma
The risks of long-term, low-level exposure to asbestos are poorly understood
Asbestos creates a “pro-tumour” environment in the body which may contribute to the formation of other cancers. There is sufficient evidence to implicate asbestos in the causation of cancer of the larynx (throat) and ovary. There is some evidence of links between asbestos and colorectal and stomach cancers