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Asbestos related health conditions

Asbestos exposure can be a health risk. It is estimated that 4,000 Australians die each year from asbestos related diseases. That’s more than twice as many deaths as the national road toll.

A person can show signs of more than one asbestos related disease. Symptoms may not appear until decades after exposure.

Asbestos exposure can cause asbestos related diseases and conditions, including:

  • asbestosis
  • lung cancer
  • mesothelioma
  • asbestos related pleural diseases (ARPDs).


Asbestosis is a chronic condition caused by inflammation or scarring in the lungs. It is caused by heavy, prolonged exposure to asbestos. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing and permanent lung damage.

Lung cancer

Asbestos exposure can cause cancerous tumours to grow inside the lungs. These tumours mainly occur in the:

  • lining of the tubes leading to the lungs
  • smaller airways
  • middle of the lungs.


Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer. It develops in the tissue that lines body cavities, especially the chest and abdomen. Between 700-800 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year. The average time between diagnosis and death is 11 months (AIHW, 2019).

About 90% of all Australian mesothelioma patients have had significant exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos related pleural diseases (ARPDs) 

Asbestos related pleural diseases (ARPDs) are a range of conditions that affect the lungs and chest. ARPDs are a slow-onset progressive condition. Shortness of breath and chest pain are common symptoms.

Pleural plaques

Pleural plaques are often the earliest sign of exposure to asbestos. They create white, smooth, raised scar tissue on the outer lining of the lungs, internal chest wall and diaphragm.

If pleural plaques are your only asbestos-related symptom, there may be few lung issues.