Someone I know had a CT scan and spots were found on his lungs. The docotor said it was due to asbestos exposure and he needed to be checked each year. A few weeks ago he was having pains on the right side of his chest (due to scarring). He went back to the doctor and he is now on medication and has to go back at the end of the month. This disease is unfamiliar to me. Could he have pleural thickening which is scarring? Or could it be mesothelioma which is cancer in the lining of the lungs? When do doctors decide when a lung transplant is needed? How long do people who have been exposed over 25 years ago left to live? Thank you!
Asbestos-related lung disease has several different forms. Some involve the pleura, which is the lining of the lungs. The most common manifestation of asbestos exposure is the development of what are called pleural plaques. Pleural plaques are focal collections of fibrous tissue in the lung lining. These usually develop 10 to 20 years after a person has been exposed to asbestos. Over time these plaques can calcify. Then they are more visible on chest x-rays. They rarely ever cause symptoms.
Diffuse pleural thickening is another form of asbestos exposure. It is much more rare than pleural plaques. This form is a more extensive scarring of the lung lining. It usually develops 20 to 30 years after asbestos exposure. This can cause shortness of breath. It can also be difficult to expand the lungs when inhaling. Diffuse pleural thickening requires regular monitoring by a lung specialist called a pulmonologist.
As you know, mesothelioma is a cancer that can develop in the lining of the lung in relation to asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is rare. It usually occurs 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. Cigarette smoking and pleural plaques do not increase a person's risk for developing this form of cancer. However asbestos exposure increases the risk of lung cancer, especially when combined with cigarette smoking.
Generally asbestosis does not cause pain. How long people live after being exposed to asbestos varies. Your friend should have regular chest x-rays and pulmonary function tests (PFTs). Then pose the question to his doctor. Lung transplant consideration is also a question for him to discuss with his doctor.
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