Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals with long, thin fibers. It was once used widely as insulation. It also occurs in the environment. Asbestos fibers are so small you can't see them. Disturbing asbestos can cause fibers to float in the air. When this happens, they are easy to inhale. You breathe out most fibers, but some become lodged in the lungs. Over time, they can build up in the lungs, causing scarring and inflammation. This can eventually affect breathing and lead to disease, such as
Asbestosis, or scarring of the lungs that makes it hard to breathe
Mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs or abdomen
Lung diseases associated with asbestos usually develop over many years. Smoking cigarettes increases the risk.
Exposure to asbestos may increase the risk of asbestosis, other nonmalignant lung and pleural disorders, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers.
Smokers who are also exposed to asbestos have a greatly increased risk of lung cancer.
Individuals who have been exposed (or suspect they have been exposed) to asbestos on the job, through the environment, or at home through a family contact should inform their physician and report any symptoms.
Government agencies can provide additional information on asbestos exposure.
Learn more at National Cancer Institute