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Asbestos, lung disease and cancer

28 December, 2017
Asbestos and Mesothelioma

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a building material that was mainly used in Australia between 1940 and 1980. During this period, it wasn’t widely known that asbestos caused life-threatening illnesses which can take many years to appear.

Asbestos use was later banned in Australia in 2003.

Why is asbestos a problem?

The fibres from asbestos are very small and we can easily inhale them. When we inhale them, they can lodge in our lungs and damage the surrounding tissue. This damage can then lead to several serious lung diseases and cancer.

What are the illnesses that asbestos causes?

Some of the lung diseases asbestos can cause include mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and pleural disease.


Mesothelioma is mostly caused by exposure to asbestos and according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, almost 700 Australians died from Mesothelioma in 2018. There were 662 new diagnoses or mesothelioma in 2018 and people ranged from 22 to 101 years old.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of lungs and after breathing in asbestos fibres, it can take between 15 and 50 years for the symptoms to appear.

Symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath, persistent dry and painful cough, and pain in the chest, shoulder or upper arm. It can also include frequent episodes of pneumonia and pleurisy. 

You can find out more about mesothelioma at Healthdirect Australia.


Asbestos fibres cause scarring in the lungs and the lining that surrounds the lungs. This scarring then causes a range of symptoms including difficulty breathing, coughing and an enlarged heart.

After breathing in asbestos fibres, it can take 10 to 20 years for symptoms to appear.

Symptoms can take 10 to 20 years to appear. Symptoms include shortness of breath,

Your can find out more about asbestosis at British Lung Foundation.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer happens when there is damage to the cells in the lungs. While smoking tobacco is the main cause of lung cancer, breathing in asbestos fibres can also cause the condition.

Symptoms of lung cancer include persistent coughing, coughing up blood, bronchitis, pneumonia, appetite loss, shortness of breath and chest or shoulder pain.

You can find out more about lung cancer at Healthdirect Australia.

Pleural disease

Pleural disease happens when there is inflammation in the lining of lungs. It causes difficulty breathing and stiffening of the lungs.

Asbestos in the home

According to the Asbestos Safety Eradication Agency, around one third of houses in Australia have asbestos. If you live in a house that was built before 1990, there is a chance that it could contain some asbestos.

The following parts of your home may contain asbestos:

  • roofing and gutters
  • gables and eaves
  • splashbacks in wet areas
  • walls
  • vinyl, carpet and tile underlay
  • lining behind wall tiles
  • imitation brick cladding
  • fencing
  • sheds
  • telecommunications pits
  • some window putty
  • expansion joints
  • packing under beams
  • concrete formwork

Where to get help

If you have concerns about asbestos in your home, it’s a good idea to talk to Asbestoswise or the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

If you think you’ve been in contact with asbestos, it’s best to see your GP.


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified Health Care Professional.

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