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Exposure to asbestos can cause several serious diseases some of which are almost always fatal. When it is inhaled asbestos fibres become lodged in the lung and can not be expelled. Eventually they can penetrate the cells that make up the lung tissue damaging the cell DNA and turning them cancerous or cause serious scaring.
The main cancers are mesothelioma, which is always fatal, and bronchial (lung) cancer, which is the same cancer that is also caused by smoking. The danger of asbestos related bronchial cancer is believed to be considerably increased in people who smoke.
The other potential diseases are asbestosis and pleural scaring, which are debilitating though rarely directly fatal; however often they go on to develop into fatal cancers.
Although these diseases can appear a relatively short time following exposure, sometimes it can take forty years or so before the disease develops. This year around 4,500 people in the UK will die of asbestos related diseases. It is the biggest work related killer.
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