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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos Symptoms

The respiratory tract is the most common site of asbestos exposure symptoms. Symptoms differ depending on the particular problem.

The main symptom of asbestosis is shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include:

  • Persistent cough that produces mucus
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry, crackling sound in lungs while inhaling

Symptoms of lung cancer can include:

  • Cough (including coughing up blood)
  • Wheezing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Anemia

The main symptoms of mesothelioma of the lungs are shortness of breath and chest pain. Symptoms of abdominal mesothelioma can include:

  • Weight loss
  • Swelling and pain in the abdomen
  • Blood clotting abnormalities
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Anemia
  • Fever

Because many conditions share these symptoms, having these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have asbestos-related cancer or lung damage. If you experience symptoms, it's important to see your doctor.

Diagnosing Asbestos-Related Problems

Diagnosing asbestos-related health problems can take some time. The diagnostic process will begin with a medical history and physical exam. Your doctor will ask you about other medical problems you have as well as any history of asbestos exposure. Depending on the findings of the exam and history, your doctor may order tests including the following:

  • X-rays of the chest and/or abdomen
  • Lung function tests
  • CT scans
  • MRI

If your doctor suspects asbestos-related cancer or lung problems, a biopsy will be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. In a biopsy, samples of tissue or cells are removed for examination under a microscope. A biopsy may be used to detect microscopic asbestos fibers and/or cancer. Depending on the location of the tissue to be tested, a biopsy may be done in a number of ways, including the following:

Thoraccentesis. The doctor uses a long needle to remove fluid for examination from the chest.

Bronchoscopy. The doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube called a bronchoscope through the nose or mouth and into the lung, making it possible to examine the lung and air passages. Using this procedure, the doctor may also take a sample of cells with a needle, brush, or other tool.

Fine-needle aspiration. The doctor uses a thin needle to remove tissue or fluid from the lung or lymph node. The doctor may use a CT scan or other method to guide the needle to a lung tumor or lymph node.

Thoracoscopy. The doctor makes small incisions in the chest and back and then places a thin, lighted tube called a thorascope into the chest between two ribs.  This allows the doctor to view the inside of the chest and take tissue samples.

Peritoneoscopy. The doctor makes a small incision into the abdomen and inserts an instrument called a peritoneoscope into the abdominal cavity.

If the doctor needs larger tissue samples, more extensive surgery may be necessary.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on May 26, 2014
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