Asbestos-Related Diseases

Asbestos is a mineral that has caused many diseases. Some are nonmalignant conditions, such as atelectasis, asbestosis, COPD, pleural effusion, pleural plaques, and pleural thickening. Others, however, are malignant conditions caused by this asbestos exposure and may include lung cancer, mesothelioma, and potentially laryngeal, and ovarian cancers.

What Diseases Can Asbestos Cause?

Diseases caused by asbestos exposure can be classified into two types of diseases: malignant (cancerous) and benign (non-cancerous).

While many of the diseases are benign, they can still lead to death.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there is a definitive link between exposure to asbestos and 3 types of tumors in addition to 4 types of cancer. 

Malignant Diseases Caused By Asbestos Exposure:

  • Mesothelioma, both peritoneal and pleural
  • Laryngeal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

Malignant Diseases with a Possible Link to Asbestos Exposure:

  • Colon cancer
  • Pharyngeal cancer
  • Stomach cancer

Nonmalignant Diseases Caused by Asbestos Exposure:

  • Asbestosis
  • Atelectasis
  • Hyaline pleural plaques
  • Pericardial effusion
  • Peritoneal effusion (ascites)
  • Pleural effusion
  • Pleural thickening

Benign Asbestos-Related Diseases

While asbestos-related cancers do happen, benign asbestos-related diseases are more common.

Both malignant and benign diseases can develop after just one asbestos exposure, but malignant conditions typically take years of exposure. The difference in prevalence could be due to the exposure intensity required for each condition to present.


Asbestosis is an interstitial lung disease or ILD caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. This potentially deadly disease is characterized by lung scarring and inflammation. While it is benign, asbestosis can be extremely serious and was an underlying or contributing cause of death in more than 1,400 people in the United States.

Pleural Effusions

Pleural effusions are a fluid buildup between the pleural membrane and the lungs. This causes a collection of fluid between the ribs and the lungs, leading to shortness of breath and compression of the lung. Effusions are often a symptom of late-stage mesothelioma, although they can develop independently of other diseases.

Peritoneal Effusions

Also referred to as ascites, a peritoneal effusion is similar to pleural effusion, except that the fluid collection occurs in the abdomen. One of the treatment methods is fluid removal but if the underlying conditions are not addressed, the fluid build-up can recur.

Pericardial Effusions

Pericardial effusion occurs when excess fluid accumulates between the layers of the membrane that surround the heart. This can lead to chest pain and shortness of breath. While this can be caused by viral infections and other benign conditions, it can also be a sign of pericardial mesothelioma.

Malignant Asbestos-Related Diseases

Asbestos-related cancer can happen after any amount of exposure, even just a single instance.

Those that have inhaled large amounts of asbestos over an extended time period are at a higher risk of developing asbestos-related cancer.


Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Tumors can appear in the lungs, stomach, heart, or testes. 

Lung Cancer

Asbestos exposure only makes up a small percentage of lung cancer diagnoses, it is still one of the most deadly diseases you can get from asbestos exposure.

Ovarian Cancer

As of 2009, it has been confirmed that asbestos exposure can lead to ovarian cancer. The fibers travel to the organs via the lymph system, bloodstream, and reproductive tract.

Other Asbestos-Related Cancers

Asbestos exposure can lead to bile duct cancer, laryngeal cancer, esophageal cancer, and throat cancer.