Health Effects of Asbestos Exposure

Key Facts

Asbestos can kill you or make you sick – unless you protect yourself. Asbestos is silent and deadly. You do not know it is there. You cannot see, hear, feel, taste, smell, or touch the small asbestos fibers that enter your body. When asbestos is in the air, it gets into your body when you breathe and when you swallow.

Asbestos causes four types of disease:

1. Asbestosis, ‘White lung”-scarring of lungs which makes it hard to breathe.
2. Mesothelioma, the “marker disease”-a cancer of the lining of the lungs or the lining of the belly It is rare but ii always kills. It is not dose-related.
3. Lung Cancer (also caused by smoking) is the biggest killer of all the asbestos diseases. Asbestos workers who smoke are 80 times more likely to get lung cancer then the general public.
4. Other Cancers-cancers of the stomach or colon.


The more asbestos fibers you breathe or swallow, the more likely you are to get sick. This is called a dose relationship. The higher the amount of asbestos, the greater your chances of getting an asbestos disease. Most asbestos-related diseases are dose-related – mesothelioma is the exception.

Latency period

All of the asbestos diseases have a latency period. The latency period is the time gap between when you take the asbestos into your body and when you become sick. For asbestos diseases the latency period is between 10 and 40 years long.

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