Asbestos Related Diseases

When asbestos products deteriorate or are disturbed, dangerous minute asbestos fibres and dust, that are frequently not visible to the naked eye, are released. When inhaled or swallowed the asbestos fibres can lodge in internal organs and cause cancer many decades later.Asbestos disease usually takes about two decades or more to develop after asbestos exposure occurs. Not everyone exposed to asbestos will develop an asbestos related disease. The greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater risk of disease. However, some people have developed asbestos cancer after only minor asbestos exposure.World Health Organization (WHO) states that: ‘there is no minimum safe exposure level for any form of asbestos fibres.’

The National Health and Medical Research Council has noted that:‘….asbestos is …highly toxic, insidious and environmentally persistent material that has killed thousands of Australians, and will kill thousands more this century.’

Last week I was exposed to asbestos dust, what can I do?

Unfortunately there is nothing you can do. There is a long time delay (10 – 70 years) between exposure and the onset of disease symptoms. An X-ray will not show any changes due to your recent exposure. Fortunately not everyone exposed to asbestos will go on to develop an asbestos-related disease. If the information provided here is not reassuring, please discuss your concerns with your doctor.

National Asbestos Exposure Register

The Government has created a register to record the details of members of the Australian community who think they may have been exposed to asbestos containing materials.

The National Asbestos Exposure Register is managed by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

To register click here to download an online form or visit 

What are the signs and symptoms of asbestos related diseases?

The most common symptom is progressive shortness of breath. Other symptoms include mild to moderate chest pain, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Right heart failure associated with respiratory embarrassment and respiratory failure can occur as disease progresses.

Asbestos can cause diseases, such as:

  • Mesothelioma
    An incurable cancer of the lining of the lung or stomach. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Minimal asbestos exposure is enough to cause this cancer.
  • Lung cancer
    Asbestos exposure alone can cause lung cancer, although it is more common in those who have also been smokers. The combined affects of smoking and asbestos exposure can increase the risk of developing lung cancer by up to 90% of those who have not been exposed to either carcinogen. The only way to reduce the risk of lung cancer is to stop smoking.
  • Asbestosis
    Usually associated with very heavy asbestos exposure. It is not a cancer, but can be very debilitating and cause increasing breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing. Asbestosis can progress even after asbestos exposure has ceased, and can ultimately result in death because the added strain placed on other organs.
  • Pleural plaques
    These are markings on the lining of the lung and act as indicators of past asbestos exposure. In most cases, pleural plaques do not cause symptoms. Sometimes chest tightness and breathlessness can be found to be due to pleural plaques. Pleural plaques are not necessarily a precursor for more serious asbestos disease.
  • Gastrointestinal tract cancers
    Heavy asbestos exposure has been found to be related to some gastrointestinal tract cancers such as those affecting the larynx and oesophagus. Asbestos exposure and gastrointestinal tract cancer is less common.