Asbestos Related Diseases

There are five main types of asbestos-related diseases.

Pleural Plaques
Diffuse Pleural Thickening
Asbestosis
Asbestos-related Lung Cancer
Mesothelioma

Pleural Plaques
Pleural plaques are localised, well-defined areas of pleural thickening, rather like calluses on other parts of the body. They are patches of tough sinewy tissue formed on the pleura on the chest wall. The pleura are a two-layered membrane surrounding the lungs. Sometimes these plaques are ‘calcified’ and may be referred to as ‘calcified pleural plaques’.

Usually, you will not experience any symptoms of breathlessness or discomfort because of pleural plaques and it is unlikely that you will know that you have them. Pleural plaques are seen as the least serious form of asbestos disease and are not in themselves dangerous. Pleural plaques are seen as an indicator of exposure to asbestos and there is a small chance, because of that exposure, that you may develop one of the other types of asbestos disease in the future.

Pleural plaque is not included in the Industrial Injury scheme therefore it is not possible to claim Industrial injuries Disablement Benefit for pleural plaques. In respect of civil compensation, the House of Lords decided in October 2008 that pleural plaque would no longer be compensated in the courts, even though compensation had previously been paid for twenty years in the courts.

Diffuse Pleural Thickening
Diffuse pleural thickening is similar in appearance to pleural plaques, but the ‘thickening’ is more widespread and may involve both layers of the pleura. As with pleural plaques, one or both the lungs may be affected. Diffuse pleural thickening can cause breathlessness and because of this it is considered to be more serious than pleural plaques. This thickening or ‘fibrosis’ can be identified sometimes through clinical examination, but is usually diagnosed by X-ray. It can take up to 10 to 20 years to develop pleural plaques and pleural thickening after exposure to asbestos.

You can claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit from the DWP for diffuse pleural thickening if you were exposed to asbestos at work. You can also consider claiming compensation from your employer through the courts if you were negligently exposed to asbestos.

Asbestosis
Asbestosis is the most widely known disease associated with asbestos exposure. Many people think that asbestosis is a cancer, but this not the case. Asbestosis is also sometimes called “interstitial pulmonary fibrosis”. Simply, this means that the lung itself is damaged by the body’s inflammatory reaction to asbestos fibres. The inflammation results in scar tissue, or fibrosis, building up in the interstitium (or tissue between the air sacs). The building up of fibrosis reduces the elasticity of the lungs and they become stiff, making it less easy for the lungs to inflate on breathing.

Symptoms of asbestosis include breathlessness, especially on exertion, a dry cough, and chest tightness. Asbestosis may progress even after exposure has ceased and it cannot be reversed. However, the extent of the progression varies widely, as does the effects on breathing. It can take up to 20 years for asbestosis to develop, but this time scale may vary either way.

You can claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit from the DWP for asbestosis if you were exposed to asbestos at work. You can also consider claiming compensation through the courts if you were negligently exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos-related Lung Cancer
Workers exposed to asbestos have an increased risk of developing lung cancer. This risk is greatly increased if the person exposed to asbestos also smokes. Because it is very difficult to distinguish lung cancer caused by asbestos and that caused by smoking or other environmental pollutants, it is often very difficult to get a clear diagnosis of asbestos-related lung cancer.

The treatment for asbestos-related lung cancer is the same as that for lung cancer generally. Although treatment is decided individually for each patient, it is generally accepted that the earlier the diagnosis the better the outcome of the treatment. Early lung cancer can sometimes be cured by surgery and some forms of lung cancer can be treated with chemotherapy. Radiotherapy is often given to improve the symptoms of lung cancer.

You can claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit from the DWP for asbestos-related lung cancer if you were exposed to asbestos at work. The DWP will consider a claim if a person has lung cancer and asbestosis. If the person does not have asbestosis, then they must have worked in specific occupations for a specified period of time in order for the DWP to consider a claim. The specific occupations are:

  • The manufacture of asbestos textiles
  • Spraying asbestos
  • Asbestos insulation work
  • Applying or removing asbestos materials in the course of shipbuilding

The specified period of time required working in the above occupations is:

  • 5 years or more (or aggregate of 5 years) where all of the exposure to asbestos occurs before 1st January 1975.

OR

  • 10 years or more (or aggregate of 10 years) where the exposure to asbestos occurs after 1st January 1975.

You can also consider claiming compensation for asbestos-related lung cancer through the courts if you were negligently exposed to asbestos.

Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma used to be a relatively rare cancer. It is also known as “diffuse” or “malignant mesothelioma”. It can affect the pleura (the lining of the lungs), and less commonly, the peritoneum (the lining of the abdomen). It can also affect the pericardium (the area around the heart). It is a very aggressive cancer for which there is presently no known cure although there are helpful treatments that can help with some of the symptoms and current research projects are looking into understanding this cancer and finding improved treatments. Mesothelioma can take up to 50 years to develop and is almost always associated with exposure to asbestos, which can in some cases be of short duration. Cigarette smoking does not cause mesothelioma.

Unlike other asbestos diseases, mesothelioma is not ‘dose related’. It is possible to develop mesothelioma as a result of short periods of exposure to asbestos. People have developed mesothelioma as a result of living near to asbestos factories or living with someone who worked with asbestos and brought dust home on their clothes.

You can claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit from the DWP for mesothelioma if you were exposed to asbestos at work. You can also consider claiming compensation through the courts if you were negligently exposed to asbestos.