I am a 44 year old male who was exposed to a absestos for a short, several days, but intense, disasembled a three foot diameter exhaust stack on a ship without a mask and carried away several 50 gallon drums of absestos about twenty years ago. I now have Foculized Pleural Thickening of both lungs. I do not have any other complications. I am to see the Doctor again in several weeks but I forgot to ask him whether this condition will always get worse or possibly stay the same. I have stopped smoking completely. Thanks.
Asbestos related lung disease has several different manifestations, including some that involve the lining of the lungs, called the pleura. The most common result of asbestos exposure is the development of what are called pleural plaques. Pleural plaques are focal collections of fibrous tissue in the lung lining. They usually develop 10-20 years after a person has been exposed to asbestos. Over time, these plaques can calcify. This makes them more visible on chest x-rays, but they rarely ever cause symptoms.
Diffuse pleural thickening is another result of asbestos exposure in the lining of the lungs, but it is much more rare than pleural plaques. This is a more extensive scarring of the lung lining, usually developing 20-30 years after asbestos exposure. This syndrome can cause shortness of breath. It can also cause difficulty expanding the lungs while inhaling. Diffuse pleural thickening requires regular monitoring by a lung doctor (pulmonologist).
Another condition that can develop in the lining of your lung (pleura) in relation to asbestos exposure is a cancer, called Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is rare. It usually occurs 30-50 years after exposure to asbestos. Cigarette smoking and pleural plaques do not increase the risk for developing this form of cancer.
Congratulations for stopping smoking! Asbestos exposure and smoking together do greatly increase your risk for lung cancer. From the information that you have given, it sounds as if you most likely have benign pleural plaques, which is a marker of asbestos exposure. Although, since we did not evaluate you, we cannot be certain of this.
Because you were exposed to asbestos, we would recommend that you have yearly follow-up by a doctor knowledgeable in asbestos related lung disease. Such follow-up may include a chest x-ray and a breathing test to monitor you for the development of further asbestos-related changes.
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