Though many asbestos-related illnesses, including potentially fatal mesothelioma and lung cancer, involve the lungs, asbestos exposure can cause diseases in other parts of the body as well. These other conditions are both cancerous and non-cancerous.
Other Cancerous Conditions
Other non-lung-related cancerous conditions resulting from asbestos exposure are laryngeal and ovarian cancer. The leading risk factors for laryngeal cancer are smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, but some studies have linked asbestos exposure and this type of cancer, including a notable 2006 NIH-sponsored study that reported a definitive link. Click here to learn more about these studies. Ovarian cancer is the fifth-most-common cause of cancer-related death among women older than 35, and the link between ovarian cancer and asbestos is well documented.
Mesothelioma can affect organs other than the lungs, also attacking the heart’s protective membrane, which is pericardial mesothelioma, and the abdomen’s lining, which is peritoneal mesothelioma. Pericardial mesothelioma is the rarest type of mesothelioma, representing about 1% of mesothelioma diagnoses. Due to its rarity, it is not well studied, and it generally has a poor prognosis of about 6 months.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is caused by the ingestion of asbestos fibers that then embed in the abdominal lining and accounts for about 15%-20% of mesothelioma diagnoses. Peritoneal mesothelioma patients generally face a prognosis of about six to 12 months.
Asbestosis, a non-cancerous condition, is a well-known chronic lung disease that results from asbestos exposure. Five other non-cancerous conditions are also caused by prolonged exposure. Pleural plaques are the most common. They are accumulations of chalky material in the two-layered membrane, the pleura, that surrounds the lungs and lines the inside of the rib cage. Pleural plaques are many times asymptomatic.
Other conditions affecting the pleura are pleural thickening and pleuritis, which is thickening and inflammation of the pleura, respectively. Though pleural thickening is many times asymptomatic, pleuritis can cause chest pain that worsens during breathing. Another condition, benign pleural effusion, is a buildup of fluid between the lungs and the chest wall and can also be asymptomatic. Finally, atelectasis is a complete or partial collapse of the lung or lobe of the lung. Atelectasis can be asymptomatic but may also cause difficulty breathing.
Suspected Related Diseases
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified correlations of increased risk of stomach, pharyngeal, and colorectal cancer to prolonged asbestos exposure. They have yet to confirm any causal links.