Asbestosis is a disease affecting the inside tissue of the lungs, where chronic inflammation and scarring takes place due to asbestos exposure. This serious medical condition increases the risk of certain cancers including lung cancer and in its advanced stage, mesothelioma. Asbestosis is a result of breathing in asbestos fibers or dust into the lungs and the resulting damage and symptoms develop over time. Specifically, asbestosis occurs when asbestos fibers penetrate deep into the lungs causing a thickening of the infected area making breathing difficult (shortness of breath) and reducing oxygen intake and thereby reducing the amount of oxygen transferred to the blood as well as the removal of carbon dioxide. When such fibers reach the air sacs in the lung, where oxygen is transferred into the blood, the asbestos fibers cause the activation of the lungs’ local immune system causing inflammation. This inflammatory reaction can be described as chronic rather than acute, with a slow ongoing progression of the immune system attempting to eliminate the foreign fibers. The resulting inflammation attracts fibrous cells that build up causing the tissue to scar.
Asbestosis is not a lung cancer (malignant tumors) but is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer, accelerated by smoking, and heart disease and may contribute to cardiac arrest.
Asbestos inhalation has also been linked to other diseases such as cancer in the throat, esophagus, larynx, stomach and colon.